Print first, post later?

On the merits of becoming an online-first publication

I’d imagine some of you, our loyal readers, noticed that for most of the year the Argosy was working without a website. The new one has been up and running for almost a month now, and the amount of focus on our site has brought me to thinking it’s time to address every newsroom’s favourite question: Why are we still printing the news?

I think most of the reasons have to do with our collective attachment to the perceived aura of a crossword on newsprint. I’m sympathetic enough to that view, but there are good reasons – some of them even justified in our policy manual – to eventually move our operations to “online-only.” For now, I’m just proposing we think about our reporting and editing schedules differently, but I think it should be the initial step in a process that sees us dramatically curtail the number of copies we print, with an eventual move to eliminating our print paper altogether.

In our current configuration, our production schedule is based around getting the proofs ready for Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. so the printer has time to print the papers and ship them to campus from P.E.I. by Thursday morning. This “print-first” attitude is enshrined in section 10 (b) of the paper’s policy manual, which reads: “The Argosy website exists as a secondary, albeit increasingly important, measure of bringing information to the students of Mount Allison University.” I think it’s time to invert this policy point and have the website represent our primary means of delivering news, with paper copies acting as a selection of the best and most print-friendly stories.

There are quite a few reasons why this is a good idea. As it stands, printing represents a huge segment of our budget. This is in part because we print on only the most environmentally friendly paper our printer has available, which raises the costs considerably. I think this is the right decision for our organization to make – even if its environmental impact is largely a symbolic one – though it does drain a considerable amount of money from our budget.

Something else to consider is  printing on the most environmentally friendly paper is still less environmentally friendly than not printing at all. With a circulation of about 1,500 copies per week, the Argosy consumes a considerable amount of paper. We’ve already lowered the circulation by 200 copies per issue this year, but I don’t think we went far enough. However, it might not be possible to further reduce the circulation of a given issue without raising the per-unit cost, so we should be willing to consider doing something radical like shifting the print publication schedule to biweekly or monthly.

Our readership is obviously quite young and comfortable with accessing news online. I can’t imagine too many students on campus have print subscriptions to publications other than a favourite magazine. At the same time, I don’t think we should go ahead with these changes without ensuring that the majority of students are in agreement. I know the crossword fans in particular won’t be happy with me for suggesting this at all, and the ritual Reading of the Comics in meal hall on Thursday morning would certainly be missed, but I think it’s the right decision for a paper which is obligated to be concerned about the environment and the reading habits of its supporters.

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