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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

“Columbian” to cease publication indefinitely

by Sonya Swanson Carney, advisor

Photo by Amanda Noel.
Following publication of this issue of “The Columbian,” the college newspaper will suspend production indefinitely after this semester. “The Columbian,” which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2009, has suffered declining enrollment in recent years. As a result, the Newspaper Production course has been canceled for the spring semester, closing the door on further publication.

College administration cited enrollment trends as a primary factor behind the paper’s suspension. “There was not a critical mass of students who were willing to do the work involved in taking the course and producing the paper,” said Dr. Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean for Academic Affairs.

Several students who served as reporters and editors for “The Columbian” also believe declining student interest was a factor in the paper’s demise. Mandy Noel, a senior and former reporter and editor for The Columbian, said lack of interest could be attributed to the general decline in newspaper readership globally. Noel also said that students lack an incentive to participate on “The Columbian” because the course is not connected with a degree program. “Most students are not going to deviate from their degree tracks to put the time in that it takes to serve on a student newspaper,” she said.

Colette Battagler, junior and former reporter, agrees with Noel. “I think students are too busy with their required classes to put the essential time and effort into ‘The Columbian’,” Battagler said. “Since the journalism class does not really go toward anything degree-wise, students do not want to put their time into it.”

Smith said students are probably right when they suggest that connecting the journalism course and The Columbian to a degree program might improve enrollment. “However, no academic department stepped up to do this because it would have been a stretch to attach it to an existing program,” Smith said.

Journalism instruction began at the college in 1902, and with it came the first student newspaper, “The Rag-Time Gazette,” according to Allean Lemmon Hale’s book “Petticoat Pioneer: The Story of Christian College.” Although journalism courses were suspended for several years, students continued the newspaper by publishing “The Campus Coverall” in 1926. In 1929, the college newspaper became the “Christian College Microphone.” The paper dropped “Christian College” from its title in 1970 when the college became co-educational and was renamed Columbia College. In 1979, the “Microphone” was renamed “The Columbian.”

Despite its long history of journalism instruction, the college cannot compete with the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, said Caitlin Jenkins Campbell, a 2010 alumna and former reporter and editor for “The Columbian.” “I feel that those who are most interested in journalism will flock to MU because of the program’s reputation,” said Campbell.

In response to declining enrollment and student readership, “The Columbian” began publishing online during the 2009-2010 academic year and suspended its print version this semester. College administration backed this experiment, Smith said. Even with the administration’s support, Noel said the latest attempt to revive “The Columbian” proved to be unsuccessful. Battagler expressed disappointment about the failure of the online publication. “I thought having it online would help boost the number of readers and give the staff the ability to write and publish more articles,” she said. “It’s too bad that didn’t happen.”

College administration considered several alternatives to continue production of “The Columbian.” Smith said it would not be feasible to shift “The Columbian” to a student-run club because of lack of oversight and professionalism. He also said producing the paper through the Public Relations Department is not workable because of duplication in publications as well as lack of student ownership. He said that operating “The Columbian” in conjunction with a course is the only way the paper would work at Columbia College.

Smith said the Newspaper Production course was strong because it provided a rigorous academic experience and instruction with high academic and professional standards. “A college paper is a valuable source of student news, opinion and creativity – if students want and support it,” Smith said.

Noel said that college newspapers are a resource that allows students to express issues that are of importance to them. They provide a mechanism for faculty and staff to relate to students and to address students’ concerns, she said. Tiffani Guese, former reporter and 2010 alumna, said college newspapers are important because they provide students with information about local happenings and “keep them engaged in something besides classes.” She said they help students connect with the larger world around them.

Although her two years as reporter and editor of “The Columbian” did not contribute directly to her degree, Noel said the experience of serving on the paper paid off for her. “Not only do you gain valuable writing skills, but also interviewing, designing and time management skills,” Noel said. “Putting a paper together takes a lot of time and effort and can be very stressful, but being the microphone for your student body and getting your work published as an undergrad is a phenomenal feeling.” She said the skills she gained with “The Columbian” have given her an edge above the competition in employment. She uses her writing and designing skills for publications at her internship with Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

Campbell said she appreciated her time on “The Columbian” because of the friendships she made and the power she had to write about interesting topics. “I was able to use the title of ‘journalist’ to gain access and trust of those in the community,” she said.

While the latest incarnation of the college’s newspaper is coming to a close, Campbell is optimistic about possibilities for the future. “I’m sad to see the newspaper die out; however, I see this as an opportunity to revamp the system,” she said. “I hope that it will one day rise again, new and improved.”

Smith said, “We’ll know when it is time to resurrect ‘The Columbian’.” The end of “The Columbian” represents the loss of a traditional medium at the college, he said. “It remains to be seen how it will be missed.”

Historical research conducted by Mandy Noel contributed to this story.

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