Tuesday, November 28, 2006

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye

Most blue and white bleeders would argue that Penn State is a tradition-heavy school. There’s the "We are…Penn State" chant, football White Outs and the guarding of the Lion Shrine. Creamery ice cream, JoePa, Thon…

The list goes on.

Well, we’ve got a few traditions of our own at the Collegian.

A row of empty champagne bottles dating back to the 70’s decorates the top shelf in my office. It’s a longstanding Collegian tradition that each incoming editor in chief be toasted with a champagne bottle of their own, which will then be signed and placed in the editor’s office for years to come. I kinda like that one.

Every spring the senior class and a few underclassmen take a trip to Lewistown on the last day of publication to watch our newspaper come off the presses in the middle of the night.

And as a final farewell to the student body of Penn State, each senior, regardless of staff position or experience, gets a chance to write their senior column.

I don’t know yet what my senior column will be about, but God knows I’m not looking forward to writing it.

It’s kind of an assumption around the newsroom that the senior column is supposed to be the best work you’re capable of. No one wants to disappoint with a senior column.
And certainly not the editor in chief. So you can see why I’m dreading it.

But I got a bit of a preview of what that might be like when I read the farewell column of outgoing Philadelphia Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett from Sunday’s paper.

Bennett, who is stepping down in opposition to sweeping editorial staff cuts, chose to end her stint as the newspaper’s editor by reminding readers why the Inquirer is valuable and why they’d suffer severe consequences without it.

It’s a bit of a public relations piece, but I think she did a commendable job of taking her passion and putting it into words. That’s all you can hope for from a farewell column.

I’m hoping that sometime between now and April I’ll come up with a great concept for my last column.

I might even have one now, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Good news for the news business

I’m in a good mood today. In fact, I’m feeling almost vindicated.

My upbeat attitude isn’t due only to the fact that I’ll be stuffing my face with turkey and mashed potatoes in a mere two days.

I’m pumped because the Baltimore Sun is reporting today that college newspapers are read by an average of 76 percent of full-time college students.

Obviously this is good news to me. Newspapers simply don’t exist without readership.

And I think this also bodes well for the future of an industry that some say is on its way out.

There are about 6 million full-time college students in this country, and research shows that more than three-quarters of them are regular readers who pick up a newspaper for both editorial and advertising content. That’s more than encouraging.

I’d have to say it makes sense considering the Collegian’s circulation this year.

Newspapers live and die by readership so we make sure to track how many people are picking up the paper each day. We figure two people read each copy of the paper. Therefore, our readership is actually double our circulation.

The Collegian ranges in circulation depending on how far we are into the semester. Things like football season and breaking news stories factor in as well.

But this year has been a steady climb in terms of numbers. Circulation has been consistently upwards of 20,000 each day for several weeks now, making us right on par or ahead of our benchmark year in 1999.

What this does for us financially is it gives advertisers more incentive to use our newspaper as a way to get their message to potential customers.

Would you rather advertise in a newspaper of 10,000 or 50,000 daily circulation? That answer’s pretty simple.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Independence Daily

Two editors of the nation’s most prominent newspapers resigned last week in response to pressure from upper management for staff cuts as a cost-cutting technique.

The editor of the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer both quit their jobs because they were in opposition to the cuts.

That made me wonder: What would it take for me to actually resign my position as editor in chief of the Collegian?

No doubt this is a sweet gig.

A consistent paycheck would make it even sweeter, but that’s a blog for another day.

All I can figure is that someone’s gotta be extremely disillusioned to leave a job like the editor of Times or Inquirer.

As the leaders of their respective newsrooms, Amanda Bennett of the Inquirer and Dean Baquet of the Times apparently thought they had no choice but to give up their dream jobs in order to emphasize their opposition.

Talk about defiance. I love it.

So, back to my original question, what would have to occur for me to resign as a sign of defiance?

There may be more, but there’s at least one situation in which I could foresee this happening.

If the Collegian ever, through whatever process, gave up its independence and became affiliated with Penn State, I would have to resign my position.

Is this even a possibility? Not to my knowledge.

But I know that the Collegian’s independence is its most valuable distinction, and it wouldn’t be even remotely the newspaper it is now with if it were connected to the university.

There are both independent and university-affiliated college newspapers out there, but the better ones are always the independent ones.

Independent student newspapers like the Collegian (and newspapers at Harvard, Cornell, Brown University, and many others) always have more potential because they are not restricted by an administration that is concerned with the interests of the university - not the newspaper.

The student body is better served by a newspaper that can focus entirely on providing important and engaging information. Once a university enters the picture you get one thing: censorship.

Here’s how I feel about censorship: The first thing you see when you enter my office is a poster about the First Amendment that declares: "CENSORSHIP: the dirtiest word of them all."

Newspapers are collectively struggling with how to survive in a world that is finding its news more and more frequently on the Internet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that I don’t think newspapers will ever disappear entirely. But they will have to change.

I just hope that change for the Collegian is never to give up its independence.

Monday, November 06, 2006

"Stop the presses!"

At about 3:30 a.m. yesterday, I came close to achieving one of my lifelong dreams.

It’s a fantasy of most journalists, I reckon.

That dream is to say sincerely and with conviction: "Stop the presses!"

Unfortunately, those exact words never did come out of my mouth. I regret that wholeheartedly.

But I was at the Collegian between the hours of 2:30 and 5 a.m. with another unfortunate soul while we fixed a front-page error and re-sent the page to the press in Lewistown.

It was an experience, to say the least.

By the time my dream message reached the press operators in Lewistown, 5,000 copies of the Collegian had already been printed, I’ve been told.

What the heck was the egregious error, I’m sure you’re wondering.

Our story about Paul Posluszny’s new Penn State tackle record was mistakenly
replaced by the story we ran in Friday’s paper - which previewed the possibility that Posluszny could bypass the former tackle record held by Greg Buttle at Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.

He did. We wrote the correct story, edited the correct story and then placed the wrong story.

It was an innocent mistake, one that can happen easily when deadline pressure peaks around midnight and oodles of story names all start to look the same.

Nonetheless, it was a big boo-boo and one that required decisive action when someone realized the error at about 2:30 a.m.

But please don’t misunderstand.

I was hardly thrilled to be the bearer of bad news for the press operators in Lewistown who were surely backed up as a result of the Collegian’s error.

It was a learning process, however.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since taking this position, it’s that something will always go wrong and that all you can do is fix it and move on.

I think that’s probably true for most professions.

Most mistakes made in other professions, however, aren’t delivered to the dormitories and classrooms of 40,000 of your best friends.

Luckily, last night we were able to deliver one less.