Pulling the plug on print a personal stab

If a tree falls and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? The same can be said for the state of print journalism in the age of a digital revolution. If nobody’s reading the paper, are the stories still news?

The University of Windsor’s 85-year-old student newspaper, The Lance, has been ordered to immediately cease print production. The decision follows a vote in which the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance (UWSA) voted against print editions going forward, in favour of publishing the paper online only.

The UWSA, which funds The Lance, said the paper is operating under a steep deficit. The Lance said it will finish with a “minor” shortage by year end, which can be easily adjusted by fine-tuning next year’s budget.

Regardless, the vote is a reflection of the current state of the business of news. Similarly, in March it was announced that the Ryerson Review of Journalism would be cut down to one annual issue, while both the Toronto Star and CBC announced plans to shed jobs. Clearly, no publication is safe from the rampant uncertainty surrounding journalism.

And there’s no denying the power of a click to generate accessibility. Linking a story on Facebook enhances its chances of being read by more people and reaching a wider audience. Fewer people are picking up a newspaper because the Internet connects them to what’s happening in the world around them, as it’s happening. News should be instant.

But trained journalists often feel as though eliminating print is an insult. We stubbornly feel that if we can hold our work in our hands, its worth is enhanced. The fact that our stories appear in print validates our work as journalists, not bloggers.

In this week’s opinion piece, Ryersonian reporter Sabina Sohail concludes that a journalism degree is worthless now that the Internet has increasingly made a writer out of everyone. She argues that if anyone can be a journalist with a WordPress account, why bother studying the profession?

But blogs simply cannot convey the same gravitas as reporting found in serious publications. Going web-only effectively deprives students of all aspects of journalism. The benefits of learning hands-on publishing shouldn’t be eradicated just because it’s common belief that printed papers are on their way out in the coming years. Student newspapers are a forum for j-school students to learn what print journalism not only needs, but demands.

Thus, it’s not just nostalgia we’re holding on to. The end of print in student settings spells a reduction in both content quality and quality of training.

It should be duly noted that The Lance is Windsor’s second largest publication and the city’s only free weekly, paying 14 staffers with full-time hours. Surely, pay cuts and other budget-saving compromises could have been made to preserve an 85-year-old tradition. Instead, the UWSA decided not to support its own student media, and did so without the newsroom’s input.

While The Ryersonian is an online-first news outlet, if we were robbed of the opportunity to produce a weekly paper, we’d be just as upset.

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