(Photography by Collin Richie: Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez)
Like every other media organization on the planet, LSU’s student media outlets are trying to adapt in the digital world. As part of that shift, LSU might join many other universities and reduce the publication frequency of its printed daily newspaper to once or twice a week. While no decisions have been made about print frequency, Steve Buttry, LSU’s director of student media, seems to like the idea much more than Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez, who spent the fall semester as editor-in-chief of The Daily Reveille.
Is The Daily Reveille in trouble?
Steve Buttry: The Reveille and student media in general posted six-figure losses last year. We can’t keep drawing on our reserves, so we have to have better financial performance. The Reveille brings in the most advertising revenue, but it has the highest operating cost. Nobody would start from scratch today and say, “This is the set of products that we should have for a student media operation in 2016.”
Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez: No. As a student, I see people pick it up. It’s part of the ritual of coming to campus. The numbers are not bad. We have a small niche audience, but the people who are picking up our paper are reading it. I don’t see a disinterest in The Daily Reveille. People don’t pick up the other free papers that are around campus, but they pick up The Reveille because it’s something unique to our campus.
Are new products, including digital products, in the works?
Buttry: We’re talking about what we need to do to provide value to advertising businesses and news for the campus and the extended LSU community that can’t pick up The Reveille but still cares about LSU sports, higher education funding and other issues we cover. If we decide to cut down our print frequency and are able to concentrate our advertising in fewer but improved print editions, that could free up people to put together a curated email newsletter. There could be digital products that are more commercially oriented that don’t have much editorial content. We haven’t made any decisions yet.
Zamudio-Suarez: People on campus are on Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, but they’re following us, too. We’re getting great traction on social media. The problem is we’re all full-time students, and we’re just learning to become reporters. We launched a new football gameday paper that was a complete success. We’re starting to train our reporters to think digitally, to take pictures with their iPhone or use tweets from readers. But the student media administration needs to remember that good writing and reporting can never take a back seat to plans for a new app.
You’re discussing whether to reduce print frequency. Where does that conversation stand?
Buttry: We’re having two students lead two different studies: one focused on finances and one on improving the digital experience and what we have to do about print frequency to go along with that. I want them to make the best case for continuing daily print publication and for cutting back to one or two days a week. We’ll present the ideas in public forums and then to the student media board. The business decisions are made by the dean and me, but we’ll give the board’s opinion heavy weight.
Zamudio-Suarez: In the spring it will be a daily. As for next fall, the student media board will vote on any changes, but Dean Jerry Ceppos has the final say. A lot of it is working out the kinks. How can we make sure The Reveille is sustainable? How can we maximize opportunities for student learning? The students’ views are pretty obvious: We want a print daily newspaper. A student plan will come about, and it will be pretty public, and it will be a question of how closely it is followed and how plausible it is.
Are you working to break down silos within student media?
Buttry: Silos are part of workplace culture. But places that have succeeded in digital innovation change what they do, which forces changes in the structures. At TCU, for example, rather than having separate staffs for TV, print, digital and news radio, which is what we have, they created one central news gathering team.
Zamudio-Suarez: The digital editor is not the same as the print editor. That creates barriers to student learning, because we’re not even in the same room. I have said it should change, because professional newsrooms aren’t structured that way. We collaborate at times with the campus TV station, but it hasn’t been done yet to its fullest extent.
Do you think the print newspaper will disappear in the foreseeable future?
Buttry: I think it will survive as a niche product, but I think it needs to change and adapt much more and better than anybody in the industry has done so far to have a strong future.
Zamudio-Suarez: Maybe, but no one’s figured out how to really monetize digital content. Right now, if you’re getting the most money from advertising in print, you’ve gotta print.