UMD Student Publication Plans to go Digital after 110 Years of Print Journalism

By Charlie Kannapell, Emma Volkers, and Alex Waterman

Graphic by Molly Busis

As the world of journalism continues to transform with society, the most noticeable change has been in the way news is communicated. What started as pamphlets hand printed and posted on town bulletins has now developed into millions of digital sites, print magazines, and local publications.

The University of Maryland student-run newspaper, The Diamondback, released its first edition in 1910, and has continued to have a place on campus ever since. Starting as a daily publication, The Diamondback has seen 110 years of print, but has decided recently that the changing face of journalism is calling them in a different direction. In 2020, The Diamondback plans to go fully digital.

Leah Brennan, the Editor-in-Chief of The Diamondback, said that the switch to digital has little to do with finances and everything to do with how the student body gets their news: “It’s a choice to get more in touch with our readership.” According to Brennan, TheDiamondback print editions reach a maximum of 5,000 thousand people upon each distribution, because that is the amount of copies they print each week. By contrast, The Diamondback’s online website reached a staggering 160,000 visitors.. “You see people walking across campus and they're not picking up the print edition, they're looking on their phones, they're looking at our twitter and finding their engagement with it that way.”

Not all on campus share the same viewpoint. Professor of Journalism Jay Goodman worries that a lack of physical news will, by contrast, reduce visibility. “I’m an old fashion traditionalist in terms of a professional journalist. I like a tangible publication. I like to feel it in my hands. I like the ink to rub off my fingers. If a publication isn’t visible and tangible to me I probably am not going to pay as much attention or any attention to it,” said Goodman. Goldman recalls his first 15 to 20 years as a Professor at the University of Maryland, when The Diamondback published daily newspapers. “There were always big stacks sitting inside the front door of every building on campus,” Goldman said. “You couldn’t miss it. Or whenever I would go in Mckeldin Library, there were always large stacks of the paper there. People would grab them as they were coming in or going out.”

Junior and journalism major Aneeta Ashton, however, sees the change to digital journalism as incredibly beneficial. “We are no longer bound within the confines of 500-800 word pieces on a single page. With digital journalism comes multimedia journalism -- images with captions, videos with narration, and so much more.” In fact, The Diamondback plans to take advantage of multimedia as it makes its transition, starting with its podcast. Leah Brennan describes the podcast as “feature-like and fun.”. The Diamondback also plans to take advantage of the school’s TV’s located around campus, where they will be showing multimedia segments that will begin to come more frequently from the publication with its switch to the digital world.

Professor Goldman has seen a dramatic change in the way Journalism is taught throughout his time at the University of Maryland. “What [teachers] were expected to teach when I first started in the late 80s and early 90s was really basic stuff: sound grammar and basic news writing skills.” Today, the journalism curriculum has shifted to teach students an array of skills needed in an online venue.

“Because of the shift,” Aneeta Ashton says, “we no longer see J-schools allowing students to go in wanting to be a print journalist and learning only that.” Now, Ashton says, she's receiving a more “holistic education.” Along with learning the basics of journalism, Ashton says she’s learning other skills such as how to code for data-driven journalism and how to film for multimedia journalism. She sees these new skills as a testament to how, “in order to be the best journalist, you need the whole picture.”

When the announcement about the paper’s switch to digital was first released to alumni, the response was overwhelmingly positive, said Brennan. I remember waiting to look on the alumni Facebook group the day after,” said Brennan, “[but] even the most outspoken alumni were saying things like ‘oh well you know the kids will keep on doing good journalism, this isn't gonna change anything.’” The change in vessel for the publication will not change the quality of its contents or staff morale either. “Every time I think it can't get better, the staff just keeps getting more and more motivated and I just love it,” said Brennan.

As The Diamondback prepares to make its transition, students and staff members alike have found time to reflect on its past. For most, it’s a bitter-sweet situation. “Does it surprise me that The Diamondback is going to be all electronic in a few more months? Not at all,” said Professor Goldman. “I'm really saddened by it, but I certainly understand it.”

“I mean, of course, I'm sad to see the print edition go,” said Brennan. “I vividly remember my first front page freshman year and [when] I saw it on print the next day I asked somebody ‘Hey can you take a picture of me with this? This is the first time my name has been on the front!’” said Brennan. That being said, Brennan’s eyes are on the bigger picture. “It's been kinda cool to see how these decisions are coming into play at the collegiate level, [because] you see so many industry leaders out there professionally trying to do similar things [with their publications] right now, or just trying to innovate and get on top and it really is changing every day.”

“What sets the field of journalism apart from virtually every other field is how adaptive it is. If you track the field’s history from the days of the Revolutionary War to today, we see how it has changed to stay relevant. This adaptive nature just goes to prove how valuable and important the field is to our society.” The change to more digital sources is not at all a sign of decline in journalistic value or role assures Ashton. “Contrary to what people like to say, journalism is a field that will never die because free press is a cornerstone of democracy.”

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