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Columbia Daily Spectator Makes Moves to Go (Mostly) Online

As of late, one particular Ivy League school has been making lots of changes to its format—for instance, just last week, its editor decided to begin printing weekly as opposed to daily in the hopes of coming out with more issues that are packed with information as well as being able to help the state of the environment by reducing the paper-cost of the publication. Columbia is the first of the Ivy League schools to make this move. The Columbia Daily Spectator, founded in 1887, has printed on a daily basis for more than a hundred years.

Now, along with its innovation in printing schedules, the Daily Spectator may also be the first Ivy League university to transition into the digital format. Its Editor-In-Chief moved for the change to (mostly) online printing last week, citing that this would help their marketing and distribution greatly. Among the advantages of moving to the online format would be the ease of updating (as is usually needed in newspapers), as well as being able to use print budgets for more productive endeavors such as staffroom equipment, seminars and travel for stories which take place outside campus.

While the Editorial Staff of the Daily Spectator say that they won’t be moving away from the print format completely—they will only be reducing the number of copies printed and removing a couple of the print sections, making them only available online—the suggestion has incurred a couple of concerns from the alumni, some of whom support the paper financially. As most of the editors are in agreement with the move, a couple of baby steps toward the transition have been made, including the purchase of the domain names for the Daily Spectator and the canvassing of a possible web developer for the new online format.

The current Daily Spectator site only contains contact information, publishing schedules and a couple of “freebie” articles.

Despite this and the agreement of most of the trustees at least informally, a formal vote will be taken within the week to determine whether or not the move will be made.

A flurry of e-mails have been passed back-and-forth between the Editorial Staff and the paper’s Board of Trustees. Mr. John R. Mac Arthur, who is an advocate for print says that he can see the consumer value of going online but does not support it—he goes on to say that he values print because it is a tradition: one that he feels the current staff have no business changing.

Other trustees beg to differ: Michael Ouimette, who also acts as publisher of the Daily Spectator, says that this is one step to securing the paper’s future—the online format is here, and there is no surer step that needs to be taken; he says this will also allow the staff to focus on the quality of the stories as opposed to the layout or rampancy of the printing schedule.

Wendy Brandes, the board’s Chairman says that while there has been no formal decisions made, yet she does highly encourage the move and she commends the students for thinking about the future of the paper. She says that it doesn’t matter what people think of the internet—what matters is that it’s here and it’s here to stay. Among the trustees who are going to vote next week are Stuart Karle (the former general counsel for the Wall Street Journal) and Beth Knobel (a former Moscow bureau chief for CBS News).

This move has also been brought about (as in many cases) by stuff competition from a rival publication which has been doing considerably better than the Daily Spectator in terms of capturing the students’ attention. Bwog, an independent student-run newspaper which delivers information in the online medium, allowing students to share, like and re-post their news and articles, has been the main go-to for the students since it began operations in 2006. It is now filling the place which the Daily Spectator occupied in 1968 when it covered the Vietnam war. While the Daily Spectator prints 4,000 copies a day and gets 7,000 hits on their website daily, Bwog gets 14,000 (almost double) hits per day, without any printing.

Sarah Faith Thompson, Bwog’s editor says that their online paper is where students go for news—they open the site up on their phones, laptops, tablets and have instant access almost everywhere: the site was the first to reveal the Spectator’s decisions, breaking even earlier than the Daily Spectator itself.

Last Thursday, as the Spectator was in the process of printing its latest issue, students were seen on the Library steps, checking their electronic devices and reading about the Spectator. Oddly enough, last week’s issue had the lowest distribution, with the 4,000 copies hardly being disturbed.

There have been similar rumblings going on at the Yale Daily News and Ms. Brandes says that they have to decide on the issue as soon as possible—if they’re going to turn over tradition, they will be starting the new one and are determined to be the first Ivy League school to put their official paper online, if that is what the verdict decides as per the Board of Trustees next week. Bill Grueskin, the Dean of Academic Affairs at the Columbia Journalism School, says that that is how publishing works—it’s time for them to go where the consumers are.




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