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University Daily Kansan moves to "digital first" for news

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

LAWRENCE — The University Daily Kansan is adopting a "digital first" approach to its news that will put more content online. The change also will affect its print edition, which will switch to two days a week beginning in fall 2015.

Kansan student leaders and their advisers presented the proposal to the Kansan board last year, which the board approved. The board is composed of the student editor-in-chief, business manager, Student Senate representative, two School of Journalism faculty members and board chair.

“The board approved the recommendation of Kansan management because we believe the changes will make the Kansan fully responsive to the changing needs of our readers and advertisers and will provide up-to-date experience for our student staff,” said Mark Johnson, board chair.

Current Kansan student leaders say the decision was based on research of readership preferences of their target audience: millennials who get news through the convenience and immediacy of their mobile devices and who expect more interaction through multimedia and social media.

“Focusing on digital content allows us to tell a better story. In one click, readers can view a photo gallery or watch a video that can help them fully understand what is going on,” said Brian Hillix, Kansan editor-in-chief. “Our online presence is better than ever. We have a new website that allows us to optimize content for our readers, and we update our social media accounts frequently to promote our stories and other relevant information to our audience.”

Another major factor influencing the Kansan board decision, according to board members, was the importance of preparing students to meet the demands of entering the media workplace of the future. As online readership continues to increase and the demand for the print product declines, multimedia and social media aptitude are crucial skills for today’s journalists.

“The mission of the University Daily Kansan is to inform students and to train future journalists to be ready for the workplace. This decision does not change that mission. We applaud the Kansan student leaders for making this difficult but forward-thinking decision for the future of the Kansan and the student journalists,” said Ann Brill, dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications.

Website traffic on Kansan.com and social media engagement have increased over the last several years while Kansan print circulation has declined. Other university student newspapers experiencing this trend have already adopted the digital-focused model, which mirrors the strategy of newspaper companies nationwide. Student newspapers at well-known universities such the University of Oregon, Columbia University, University of Georgia, Kent State, the University of Nebraska and others have shifted resources in favor of online capabilities versus print.

“We are progressing with the times in an effort to reach our potential as a top collegiate publication from both a financial and editorial standpoint. Other universities have benefited from this change, and we see this having positive effects in both the short and long term,” said Sharlene Xu, advertising director for the Kansan.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, 80 percent of U.S. adults who were online in October 2014 engaged with newspaper digital content. Those who use only mobile devices for newspaper digital content grew by 85 percent from October 2013 to October 2014.

One example of the importance of the digital-first model occurred last fall when two students in masks alarmed the campus community by bursting into classrooms. Through social media and multimedia, Kansan reporters and photographers found the masked intruders and were able to be on the scene as the suspects were detained by law enforcement. The Kansan reports kept students informed as the events were unfolding. Website and social media metrics from that incident and the president’s visit to campus last month reflect the importance of immediacy in news gathering and dissemination.

The students say the change also will better serve KU alumni and friends who already use Kansan.com to keep up with campus events.

Currently, the Kansan is published Monday through Thursday, but starting this fall, it will publish only Mondays and Thursdays and will focus more on features and special sections. It still will offer game-day posters that are a tradition at KU basketball games.

Hillix says the move will be a positive change for readers. The Kansan will be able to focus more resources on producing in-depth and investigative stories for the print edition, along with producing content the students want: interactive offerings such as videos and breaking news updates through social media and the website.

“While the Kansan will print half the time, the quality of the print edition will improve as a result of this change. With more time to write and develop stories, take photos and design the pages, we will be able to put out an improved product,” Hillix said.

For more information, contact Brian Hillix, University Daily Kansan editor-in-chief, bhillix@kansan.com or 816-714-6021; or Sharlene Xu, Kansan advertising director, sxu@kansan.com. An editorial about the decision will also be posted tonight at Kansan.com.