Why Print Journalism Matters at St. Lawrence (And on College Campuses in General)

By: 
Annie Williams
Class of: 
2017

I always know when the school newspaper comes out in the morning, because I pass a girl on a bike who has bright red, curly, wild hair. Her bike has a basket in the back to carry the newspapers, and I pass her coming back from breakfast and know she has already been flying around campus.

The Hill News is St. Lawrence University’s school newspaper. Like most schools, print copies are distributed throughout campus on a weekly basis, and some are read, some are not, and some are picked up by the wind on Friday morning and blown of the picnic tables and are recycled by maintenance staff. It is a weekly activity for me, to grab a newspaper on my way out of the dining hall on Fridays, and I have a stack of old read newspapers piled high in a corner of my room.

There are those who argue that print journalism is a dying practice. It has no place in competition with media, it is just another archaic practice that is bad for the environment.

Though that may be true in some cases, the tradition is well and alive at St. Lawrence, and has been since 1911. Not only does the newspaper have a place in the St. Lawrence community, I think SLU has the right idea in preserving the tradition of print journalism, because it is more relevant than some people think.

As a rising senior, I have seen hundreds of articles churned out of the news office. Some controversial that started campus-wide arguments, and some that brought the campus together.

One benefit of print journalism is that it draws a circle around a community. It creates an “us.” For The Hill News, that community is primarily St. Lawrence. But what the paper is able to do, is extend that circle as far as it wants. Articles about the Canton community, the North Country, and the world itself ensure that the “us” we refer to is, quite literally, all of us.

One of the reasons I love reading the newspaper is that they are a solid foundation against the ever-shifting barrage of social media and online new sources. Yes, there are plenty of perfectly credible online news sites, but I have to pick them out from the myriad of advertisements, and Kardashian updates. News that appears on social media is targeted and tailored to specific audiences. Is this to say that we shouldn’t be critical of newspapers? Absolutely not. Are there newspapers that are biased and generally untrustworthy? Certainly yes.

So, for me, what separates the two? I think it has to do with process. News articles have to be researched, approved, fact checked, written, re-written, copy-edited, and laid out. This is a process that doesn't have to happen online. It is a lot of eyes, and the more people that approve something, the less susceptible it is to bias (to which everything is inclined).

In general, the base on which print journalism was founded is the idea of spreading truthful information. This is not the base on which the internet was founded. Because this foundation doesn't support the internet at its core, sources online are more susceptible to incredibility. That is not to say there aren’t exceptions on either side, but the scale is certainly tipped in favor of print journalism, if only for the sake of sheer volume: there are infinitely more sources online (more of which will be be illegitimate news), but this only supports the idea that newspapers have to go through a more thorough process before they are printed.

As someone who finds it difficult to sit through an hour-long class without moving around, I can also attest to the fact that there is something to be said for the tactile. There is something in the learning/reading process when I hold something in my hands (as opposed to looking at a screen) that increases retention. The words are more alive for me—they don’t get lost in a blur of pixels.

When I play devil’s advocate, the sustainability side does concern me. Although newspapers use a valuable resource, it is very possible that they could be created sustainably. Although we may not be there yet, recycling the papers you find in the morning that may have blown off the news stand is a good first step.

Given all of this, I think that newspapers will be a more sustainable tradition than online news sources, and social media news sources. The rate of turnover that the internet experiences is happening faster and faster, because the internet is so susceptible to trends. From YouTube to Vine to the Meme-nation, the trends come and go almost faster than I can keep up. So as things pick up speed and shift faster and faster, we are going to need someplace stable to turn to for information. This, I think, will be the role of print journalism, and St. Lawrence has stood firm in this tradition.

Looking through a paper from 20 years ago from before the Student Center was built, or being able to recognize the same seats in Appleton Arena is an exceptional experience. The Hill News is steeped in tradition that echoes through the walls of St. Lawrence, and its commitment to honesty and excellence has given it a timeless place on campus. It is more than just a few pieces of paper; it is who we are. As a school, a community, and as a world.