Arizona State University's student-run State Press newspaper announced plans yesterday to dump its weekday print edition and become a weekly.
Starting in the 2013 spring semester, the State Press will appear in print only on Thursdays.
"We must think digitally," says a suspiciously cheery column by the newspaper's editorial board. "So it is with incredible excitement that we announce a shift toward a digital-first newsroom starting Spring 2013, but we're not completely abandoning print."
The Thursday paper will be twice as large and "directly delivered to 7,500 University dorm rooms across four campuses as well as the newspaper racks," the column says.
A press release put out by ASU Student Media and the State Press says that "interest in the daily newspaper has decreased."
The daily format will be replaced with "a host of new digital products and special print products."
In the release, ASU Student Media director Jason Manning hammers the nails in the coffin when he says the school can't give its students proper training by "using old products, old methods and old thinking."
Newspaper lovers may feel a sting at those words, but the Digital Age has transformed how people consume news. The change has been especially painful for newspapers, because Internet advertising doesn't bring in nearly as much money as print does.
Manning tells New Times this morning that loss of advertising revenue at the State Press has been a concern for the last few years. The paper posted a 10 percent increase in revenue last year, but that had been preceded by four years of declines.
In response, the paper reduced circulation on ASU campuses from about 13,500 each day two years ago to 10,000 a day now. The Friday edition circulation has been about half those figures, Manning says.
Advertisers are more interested in specialty print products, like the State Press Magazine or football promos.
The new business model is expected to bring in at least as much revenue, allowing the news operation to maintain its traditionally strong degree of independence from the university, Manning says.
If this is what the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism is teaching its kids, daily newspapers like the Arizona Republic might as well throw in the towel. The state's biggest paper recently launched a paywall to eke some money out of its Web site. The East Valley Tribune, a seven-day-a-week rag just a few years ago, is now a three-day-a week print publication. Dailies in the Valley have been struggling for ages, of course -- many residents probably don't even remember the Phoenix Gazette, which was actually delivered in the afternoon.
The State Press has its origins in a student-run newspaper founded in 1890, when ASU was known as the Arizona Territorial Normal School. The paper published from one to four days a week over the years; the five-day-a-week format began in 1984, according to a Wikipedia article.
But State Press readers, plugged into the online world more than ever, seemed to be losing interest in the daily print product, Manning says. At some racks, only half of the papers were being picked up each day.
"Carpet bombing the campus with newspapers that don't get picked up doesn't make sense," he says.
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As far as we're concerned, the ASU experience won't be the same if you can't skim through the headlines, comics and ads of the State Press while sipping a coffee between classes. (As a former editor and reporter of the paper, we also worry that the new crop of journalism students won't, in fact, learn as much about the real world. For one thing, when you make a mistake in print, there's no "taking it down.")
Sure, the Thursday edition will still be there, but the tradition of a daily newspaper had a value that might not be realized until it's gone.
In any case, it's clear this move -- as with similar actions by other newspapers -- can't be honestly called "good."
It's just survival.