Since deciding to go digital last semester, a lot of people asked me why we did it. Maybe they were asking out of pure curiosity or maybe it was because they think it was the dumbest decision that the staff could have made for the student voice. Either way, here’s my explanation to The Echo’s move into the digital age.
I started submitting pieces to The Echo sometime in 2013. I was so excited to see my writing in print. In one of the issues, I found several typos in my article that weren’t there in the original copy. I contacted the Editor-in-Chief and told him that my piece had added typos (where California became Californai), which, as any writer would feel, left me a little furious. He suggested that I come to the next meeting and run for the position as Arts and Entertainment Editor. So I did. And I got it. About a month later, in May of 2014, the Managing Editor resigned and recommended me to fill her position. I ran for Managing Editor during the next meeting and was voted in. Fall of 2014 was my first official semester and I really liked it.
Our staff met every other Sunday for layout, where we went on the computers and played with InDesign to format our pages for print. We got ads in almost every issue. Everybody on staff took a stack of newspapers to their classes and handed them out each time we printed.
When the issues would arrive, we would distribute them around both campuses — but somehow, even after putting out the issue, people would still ask me, “Did The Echo print this week?” Well…yes. They’re right outside in the newsstands, didn’t you see them?
But people weren’t seeing them; they seemed to blend in with the walls. We figured that the problem was reader interest, that the paper didn’t catch the people’s eye anymore. So we redesigned the front page. We got rid of the blocks of text for News and turned it into a graphic cover, much like a book or magazine. Some newspapers do this too, where the front page is mostly taken up by an image, though it’s not as popular. Now, this got people’s attention. We got a lot of good feedback for our issues once they looked more appealing.
But we still had a problem: there wasn’t enough content.
Our pages were half blank and could barely get completed during layout. The staff worked hard to put together stories and recruit writers by speaking in front of their classmates about the paper, but to no avail. Whether we want to blame it on this generation’s motivation, or lack of incentive to be a part of a print product, there was little interest from the student body to contribute to The Echo. We would spend hours laying out pages, but the paper itself began deteriorating without enough content. And I think the work stopped becoming worth it: what were we doing this for if only a few people were picking up our issues?
We had already tried everything we could think of to keep people picking up copies. It irked me when faculty and teachers would tell me how The Echo used to be so popular, how everybody on campus would read it and submit content. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the ‘90s anymore. So, at the end of the semester in Spring of 2015, I pitched the idea of turning The Echo into an online-only publication. Everybody thought it was a good idea, so we began transitioning.
I know that print isn’t completely dead. There’s something about holding a physical copy in hand and flipping through the soft-gray pages with that freshly-printed smell. Seeing your work in print is more exciting than seeing it online, that I know because I’ve felt it.
But here’s the thing: since we’ve gone online completely this semester, our numbers have skyrocketed. Actually, let me correct myself: I couldn’t even measure The Echo’s numbers through print because we barely received feedback.
Even if 500 people read each issue, we wouldn’t know because nobody went out of their way to contact The Echo and say, “Hey, really great issue! I liked the article on page 7.”
But when you’re online, and you’re using tracking, analytical, and statistical tools, you can see what kind of responses you’re getting.
And they’re good. We’ve only got 362 “likes” on Facebook, yet our weekly reach is nearly 2,000 people, with hundreds of views and interactions per post.
Besides the fact that The Echo seems to be doing better than it has in years, going digital is a smart decision to make in general, maybe one day the best decision for most publications. By going online, publications can interact more with their readers and maintain an online presence in a world where seemingly everybody is on the Internet. Thanks to the unlimited amount of space online (whereas you are limited in print), publications are able to post as much as they’d like. Perhaps just as importantly, it eliminates the need for strict deadlines and guidelines, because publishing an article is as easy as clicking the “Publish” button. We can consistently update with new content instead of having one print with few articles because our contributers didn’t make a deadline.
The digital space utlimately gives us more options in ways that we can deliver. We still have the choice of traditional text pieces, but now, videos are created, shared, and watched. People want to watch video interviews of their friends. They want to see video highlights of their roommates playing sports. Articles that your kid, best friend, or roommate wrote can be shared to friends and family on Facebook. Because you can share virtually everything, the community as a whole is expanded. The readership grows and remains stable because you dedicate yourself to a medium that works. Most importantly, people become interested again. People start talking.
Sure, print might be dying, but news, stories, entertainment? — that will never die.
Have you wondered why BuzzFeed is so popular? Why mom-and-pop shops are suddenly promoting their websites? Why food and drink companies like Doritos, Taco Bell, or Smirnoff are telling you to follow them on social media? You don’t need to follow a bag of chips on Twitter, but you can if you want to. Like Bill Gates said, “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” People are doing this because it’s smart.
While most news publications are both online and printing, The Echo made the decision to dedicate itself to the one medium where its audience will appreciate its presence the most. That’s why.