Columbia student paper plans to drop daily print edition

columbia-student-paper-plans-drop-daily-print-edition
The current staff of the Spec. (Via columbiaspectator.com)
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Peter Sterne

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The Columbia Daily Spectator, the student newspaper distributed daily at Columbia University and in surrounding Morningside Heights, plans to switch to a weekly edition starting in the fall, editor-in-chief Abby Abrams told staff earlier this evening. Moving forward with the decision requires the approval of the newspaper's board of directors, which is scheduled to vote on the matter later this week.

“For next semester, we are going to go web-first and move to a print schedule that involves a once-weekly print product,” Abrams told Capital. “We think that moving to this schedule will allow all our writers and editors to produce the best content possible.”

Assuming it is approved, the plan is to take effect in the fall, when the print edition—which Abrams said will contain a “mix of daily content and in-depth content”—will only be published on Thursdays. The website would be updated every day, throughout the day.

With this decision, Columbia University would become the only Ivy League school without a daily student-run print newspaper.

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The Spectator already publishes a print weekly—a magazine called The Eye—which is currently distributed on Thursdays. Abrams said a final decision had not yet been made about how The Eye will be integrated with the weekly Spectator. They will not each publish separate editions in print on Thursdays, at any rate, but whatever happens, The Eye will continue to have its own identity online.

The Spectator’s board of trustees will vote on the strategy later this week.

Abrams said the move was not forced by the paper’s current finances, but rather driven by the desire to “make the decision while Spectator is still in a strong place.”

“This is not something that we have to do," she said. "It’s a choice.”

Publisher Michael Ouimette told Capital the Spectator’s parent company, a tax-exempt nonprofit financially independent from the university since 1962, has been profitable since 2010. But, he said, the daily print edition lost money for the first time this year.

The majority of the company’s revenue, he added, now comes from non-print products. These include the Spectator’s website, as well as the web properties Print@CU and Courses@CU. All are supported through digital advertising.

Abrams said eliminating the daily print edition will free up funding to expand the Spectator's work-study program. Since the paper does not pay its all-student editorial staff, she explained, some qualified students must forego reporting for the Spectator to find paying jobs. The work-study program is intended to provide an hourly wage for these students.

“It’s really important for Spec to reflect diversity, and it’s not easy to work for free,” Abrams said.

Ouimette said the work-study program currently supports about four students. Next year, he said, he and Abrams hope it will support at least 10 students.

The move is likely to be met with nostalgia among the newspaper’s alumni, many of whom have moved on to prominent positions in the journalism field. It did for Robert Hardt, Jr., managing editor of the paper in 1990 and now political director for NY1.

“The place was really a terrific training ground for young journalists and I suppose that will all continue regardless of the medium,” Hardt wrote in an email to Capital. “But the Spec in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the last connection to the ‘hot type’ era. Our ‘boards’ would be taken to the printing plant in New Jersey in the early morning by this really great Colombian guy named Ricardo (who owned a crazy parrot that was also named Ricardo). I went with him once to the printing plant and it was an incredible experience for a 19-year-old to be treated like a mini-Charles Foster Kane and to see the paper come off the presses.”

“It’s the end of an era—but it probably means that Spec reporters will miss fewer classes and get better grades,” he added.

Abrams might not agree, given the 24-hour news cycle of the newspaper’s planned digital operation.

"Spectator will always be a place where we’re spending late nights in the office," Abrams predicted.