BYU’s student newspaper trades daily newsprint for pixels.
A page is turning in the history of journalism, and the Daily Universe is turning with it: after printing daily for 56 years, the Universe has gone “digital first,” publishing news online daily and reducing its print edition to a weekly.
The change is part economic, part strategic. The free, 18,500-circulation paper has operated at a loss since 2009. More importantly, say communications faculty members, journalists need skills in digital storytelling.
“This move will best prepare our students to work in multiple news platforms,” says Joel J. Campbell (BA ’87), journalism associate professor and Universe managing editor. “This change will enable us to make more information available to readers more quickly.”
Universe writers now report news as it happens on universe.byu.edu through text, images, blogs, video, and audio. They also connect with readers via Facebook, Twitter, and mobile and tablet apps.
Campbell emphasizes that the fundamentals of good journalism—research and writing—stay constant; new media just present new challenges and opportunities. Associate department chair Susan Balcom Walton (MA ’86) uses Twitter as an example: Twitter forces writers to be punchy and concise by limiting text to 140 characters—a technique her comms students already spend several class periods on. Reporters can mix these platforms to great effect, adds department chair Brad Rawlins. A combination of illustrative video and tight prose may tell stories better than one medium could alone.
The industry, they say, is undergoing a fundamental shift in the way audiences find and consume news—compelling advertisers to follow. The Universe was not immune, losing one-third of its revenue in the last five years.
Yet print is not dead. “We feel strongly that our students still need that print experience,” says Campbell, which is why a weekly print edition will continue to fill campus racks.
Still, the change marks the end of an era that began in 1956, when the Daily Universe became BYU’s first daily newspaper. The all-volunteer, student-run paper mainly covered campus happenings until 1970, when the Communications Department began operating the paper as a lab for budding journalists. “A lot of people have put a lot of time and energy into this product over so many decades,” says Campbell. It shows: in the past four years alone the Universe won three first-place national awards.
The announcement of the change was bittersweet. Campus editor Megan Adams (’13) expresses concern, for one, about reaching those who read the Universe just because it was on the racks. “It’s sad,” public relations student Ee Chien Chua (’13) chimes in. “[But] BYU does have to move forward and keep up with the times. . . . It’s positive in the long run.”