LSU student media leaders are weighing proposals for potentially drastic changes to campus news offerings, including possibly cutting the print frequency of LSU’s Daily Reveille student newspaper.
Steve Buttry, who became LSU’s student media director in May and is leading the ongoing discussion, said the ideas are being driven by an industrywide shift toward digital offerings. Any changes, he said, would be directly tied to enhancing student learning, becoming more strategic and protecting falling revenues.
“We’re going to have a lot of interesting discussions in the coming months,” he said.
Much of the chatter, thus far, has been in intimate discussions and online, but the start of the fall semester could signal more in-depth and larger debates over the future of LSU’s student media.
The Reveille, which has been a fixture on campus since 1897 but traces its history back to an early start in 1887, has a storied past that includes challenging then-Gov. Huey P. Long, who ousted its student leaders as he attempted to take ownership of the campus paper. Print publication has fluctuated between daily and nondaily status over the years, but the paper has consistently printed daily during the school year since 2002. Last year, The Reveille printed and distributed about 10,000 copies on campus each day, but Buttry said that figure likely will be scaled back this school year to address revenue and circulation concerns.
Buttry, who is recognized nationally as a digital innovator, first came to LSU last year as the Manship School of Mass Communication’s Lamar Visiting Scholar. The ideas he’s now proposing largely reflect proposals brought forth in his interviews for the student media director job.
He said he has noticed stacks of copies of The Reveille left in racks across campus during his time at LSU.
“It’s not being picked up at the level it once was,” Buttry said.
While it’s common to see students engaged on their iPhones and laptops on campus, he noted it’s less common to see them holding physical copies of The Reveille.
“It’s no secret that newspapers are feeling the stress of the digital age,” Buttry said.
That’s led him to consider whether the publication should limit its print frequency to once or twice a week, while focusing more resources on The Reveille’s online presence.
“I expect it to happen, but it’s not a starting point for me,” Buttry said of dropping the “daily” part of The Reveille. “That’s happening in college media throughout the country.”
Buttry stressed that he doesn’t expect any changes to hit The Reveille print schedule before fall 2016, if at all, and that any changes will reflect a “collaborative” plan developed with students and others affected.
Much of the response from those who have been engaged in the ongoing talks has been tepid, so far, with several former and current Reveille staffers raising questions or objections to Buttry’s points. Those concerns were reflected in an online document Buttry created, but to which he has since limited access.
“They’re all valid questions,” Buttry said in an interview with The Advocate this week. “I’m not at all surprised.”
Chandler Rome, who graduated in May after serving as editor of The Reveille, said he isn’t surprised that a cut to the paper’s print schedule is being discussed.
“I just didn’t think it would come this quickly,” he said.
He said the student paper appeals to wide swaths of campus — beyond students who are news junkies — from athletes who are hoping to spot themselves in photos from their most recent games to students who want to play the crossword puzzles during downtime in class.
Rome disagreed with Buttry’s assertion that there is a significant rate of leftover Reveilles left in campus racks.
“It really depends on where you go on campus,” Rome said. “I think it’s something that, maybe, instead calls for looking at circulation numbers — how many we print each day.”
Adam Kealoha Causey, a former Reveille managing editor and one of the founders of a Reveille alumni group, said he has an emotional attachment to the paper, but he understands the intentions behind the suggestion.
“I think anyone who is trying to make decisions about revenue and profitability has to look at tough things like cutting back on publication days,” said Causey, now an assistant city editor at The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“Those are the kinds of questions that I think the entire journalism industry — particularly newspapers — are dealing with.”
Buttry said any final decisions will be driven by strategy and enhancing student outcomes, rather than profit, but he noted that ad revenue has been on the decline at The Reveille. The student newspaper also is supported, in part, by a fee that students pay on their tuition bills.
“We’re here to help students prepare for careers in media,” Buttry said. “It’s a multiplatform world that we need to prepare them to thrive in.”
Buttry said he sees the rapidly changing media landscape and wonders what it will be like for students who start LSU a decade from now.
“We want a healthy student media to hand off to them,” he said.
Rome, who is currently interning for MLB.com, said he hopes that his work at The Reveille will help him secure a job at a daily newspaper, and he wants other students to also have that opportunity.
“While I’m open to taking any job and exploring new avenues in my career, my whole goal is to work for a daily publication,” he said.
As someone who spent seven semesters working for the student newspaper, Rome called the proposal to cut publication “devastating.”
“I don’t think people realize how much students pick (The Reveille) up,” he said. “I think it’s severely underestimated.”
Buttry said that, while suggesting scaling back the frequency of The Reveille’s publication, he has also put forth ideas that include adding game-day editions during football season for LSU fans to pick up on campus.
“We’re going to look at all possibilities,” he said.
Among more immediate changes in other areas of student media: Buttry said he hopes to see some new offerings this fall.
Already, plans are in the works to scale back print publication of Legacy magazine — an effort driven by that publication’s editor — and add a new online component to compliment print, Buttry said.
By spring, when a natural rollover of some editors will occur, he said student media could be better positioned to make further alterations.