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Student media challenges: Revenue, readership, representation

It’s no secret that student media have faced many challenges over the years that impact young journalists’ ability to do their jobs on college campuses. From First Amendment protections to declining revenues, students must find ways to keep their publications sustainable for years to come. These issues are only a small glimpse of the challenges that student press members face. These issues raise a greater question about the importance and relevance of a free student press in the 21st century.

NMSU student media leaders and a journalism professor at NMSU shared their perspective on some challenges student publications face, and what they believe the future of student journalism will look like.

Cielo Rodriguez, editor-in-chief of The Round Up, edits a story on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, in the student media offices at Corbett Center. One of the challenges facing student newspapers on college campuses is visibility. (Photo by Ernesto Cisneros/Kokopelli)

Mary Lamonica, a professor in the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies explained why student publications are important.

“It’s not just the times that have changed. I think student media for decades has been a great training ground for students that want to become journalists and it’s also a terrific watchdog of the campus, whether you’re talking the 2020s, or the 1980s, or the 1890s,” Lamonica said.

Lamonica, a former journalist and researcher of media law and history, explained that college publications face many issues regarding censorship and generating revenue related to advertising.

“There have been First Amendment cases that have hit the Supreme Court with student media that involve giving student media autonomy, because the Supreme Court has ruled that adults are adults and the First Amendment is the First Amendment and K through 12 is different, but with adults there’s no right for an adviser [or university administration] to censor what is written,” she said.

On top of censorship, advertising and sales are impacting print editions at many school newspapers. In 2016, WRAL-TV reported that North Carolina State University’s college paper faced declining revenue of about $20,000 over a four-year timespan. The decline eventually led to the executive decision to cut print editions altogether and focus on online publishing.

“Just like regular newspapers, advertising is an issue in the digital age and not having enough money has a strong impact on a student publication and being able to reach students,” Lamonica said.

For Cielo Rodriguez, editor-in-chief of NMSU’s The Round Up, it goes beyond the financial aspect. Rodriguez mentioned that visibility with students and university administration is another challenge student press faces, along with the competitive environment of other news outlets.

“We have to compete against a bigger paper that has more funding and more writers and I think it’s really competitive in general because you have to fight to get your stuff out to the student public because it’s already not well-known,” Rodriguez said. “It’s already hard to make those connections especially if whoever’s in charge isn’t giving those opportunities to the students to be able to report on any issues.”

An empty sound booth awaits a KRUX 91.5 staff member to go live on air Oct. 31, 2022. KRUX 91.5 is the only student-run radio station at New Mexico State University, where a small staff hosts weekly on-air shows and broadcasts music to the campus community. One of the many challenges that student media face, especially radio, is securing enough funding for day-to-day operations. (Photo by Ernesto Cisneros/Kokopelli)

Another area of student media that doesn’t get much attention are student radio stations. Declining listenership on traditional broadcast channels and a switch to mobile digitization is a problem that many student stations are dealing with, according to an article published by the Student Press Law Center.

“A lot of people don’t listen to the radio anymore. It’s hard. Everyone has Bluetooth in their cars and radios aren’t really a thing and in houses anymore. I think that’s the biggest challenge,” said Daiquiri Torres, general manager of KRUX 91.5. 

Despite this challenge, Torres explained that student radio provides the opportunity for students to explore their skillsets and abilities with live radio broadcasts. At NMSU, the only live student radio station on campus, KRUX 91.5, acts as a pivotal platform for students to get hands-on experience. 

“More people know about The Round Up automatically because there is a journalism department here. You can’t learn radio here at NMSU. There’s not really a course or path that you can take,” Torres said.

As the audio news sector slowly becomes less popular, and with there being little-to-no opportunities to major in radio broadcast, Torres said that representation in this particular realm of media is a big challenge. Evolving media channels have shifted students’ focus, but radio still plays an important role in the press because of the ability to provide experience for students, she said.

The future of student journalism and its challenges aren’t fully seen yet, but one thing is for certain — navigating an online environment with a plethora of communication channels is a challenge student media will inevitably face, if they haven’t already. 

“I think student media just has to also broaden to include plenty of social media and other things to attract students, send out the tweets, have the Instagram page, have whatever is going to be the next social media form and keep students informed, and there may eventually be some combination with broadcasting that creates one giant entity,” Lamonica said. “So we’ll see where it goes. It’s challenging, but it’s also exciting.”

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