Opinion | Letters to the Editor

Letter from the editors: Spectator’s new direction

At Spectator, we often talk about ways we can improve our coverage and increase our outreach, but rarely do these conversations translate into meaningful action.

We’re trying something new this year. Starting in the fall semester, the Columbia Daily Spectator will make its journalism—and its online presentation—the priority, publishing a weekly print product while bolstering its commitment to sharp, round-the-clock coverage of Columbia and the surrounding neighborhoods.

While we will no longer print five days per week, we will be more “daily” than ever. This move will strengthen our efforts to be a 24/7 news source for Columbia and the local community, putting us in a position to fund enhancements to our website, overhaul our newsroom culture, and spend more time producing the top-quality journalism that is—and always will be—at the core of Spectator’s mission.

Spectator has produced an award-winning print product five days a week, but we know the vast majority of our readers consume our content online, not in print. Most students are finding their way to articles through links on Facebook and Twitter, not through the stacks of papers delivered around campus each day. By untying ourselves from the daily print production schedule, we will free editors and writers to focus on providing our readers with the stories they want through the medium they prefer.

In line with the changes to Spectator, The Eye will become an online magazine. As is the case for the rest of Spectator, its audience is primarily online. With a major redesign coming this summer, The Eye’s website will be brand-new in the fall, providing us an opportunity to create beautiful online visuals and interactive graphics to complement the magazine’s signature long-form journalism.

With this new Web-first model, we hope to bring you more of the stories that need to be told—breaking news, comprehensive investigations, dynamic multimedia, and colorful commentary. In order to do all this, we’re expanding our team of Web developers, redesigning aspects of our website, and looking for more student journalists, photographers, videographers, and designers to join us across the board.

Our once-weekly print issue will come out on Thursdays, and will feature a mix of content distinct from the daily news that we will continue to publish on our website. Although we are moving away from the daily print model, we still believe in the potential of print. With our new weekly product, we plan to give you a reason to pick up the paper. With more pages and a creative design, we will showcase in-depth news stories, weekend sports and arts coverage, and opinion content.

Spectator is in a strong financial position to make this change. Nonprint revenue, which is generated by our student-run business team, has increased 200 percent since 2012 and now exceeds revenues generated from our print edition. This gives Spectator the financial stability required to move toward a digital future unsupported by print revenue. 

A portion of the funds currently used to print the daily newspaper will be reallocated to expand Spectator’s work-study program. It is difficult for students with work-study jobs to also take on roles at Spectator that require significant hours. Spectator seeks to build a staff as diverse as the Columbia community itself, and by increasing our work-study funds, we will take a tangible step toward that goal.

This fall will be an enormous experiment, and we don’t know exactly how it’s going to work out. It will be difficult, and we’re going to make mistakes. But we are confident that we’re moving in the right direction, and we’re eager to see what the students that make up Spectator can do.

As Spectator moves forward, we want to hear from you. Email us at editor@columbiaspectator.com, send a message on Facebook, or just stop by 2875 Broadway. Your feedback is essential for us to achieve our goal: to find innovative ways to tell meaningful stories and engage you—our readers.

Abby Abrams, Editor in Chief
Steven Lau, Managing Editor
Michael Ouimette, Publisher

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Alum posted on

The problem with the online is that you have to read everyone's stupid comments, where in print you can read without the commentary. Maybe make it so you cannot comment on certain important or controversial news stories, the way other sites do.

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Current Student posted on

No need to scroll down to the comments whenever you read an article. Fortunately, reading the comments is not a prerequisite for viewing a digital article.

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Anonymous posted on

I think that the problem with online is that you have to read the exact time the article was posted, whereas in the print you just know what day it came out. Or that articles have tags at the end. Those things really ruin my reading experience.

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I want to know posted on

How did Spectator deal with John MacArthur's vehement disagreement?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/business/media/an-ivy-league-newspaper-may-be-going-mostly-online.html

What about the eye? I've written a story for the eye and to be honest I don't think I would have put in as much time if it had only been an online deal. Long-form, artsy stuff, that really requires a print base to be quality, in my opinion.

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hooooooold up posted on

you're saying *you're* not willing to work as hard and the quality is going to suffer as a result of the medium? smh, this is not how causal relationships work. Your article will be as good as you make it. I repeat: your article is as good as you make it.

also, given the eye website is getting a total overhaul there's so much potential to really make a truly quality PACKAGE to showcase longform, rather than just a print page.
see: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/13/magazine/blues.html?_r=0

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You're right but posted on

Yeah of course my article will be as good as I make it. But my motivation for how good I'll make it depends on the medium. Obv I don't speak for everyone who writes for the eye. I'm just saying that for me, it was personally important that I know there be a print copy of what I'm doing. It's not that I would have created a shitty piece for the eye if it were online only--it's that I wouldn't have opted to do it in the first place.

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Anonymous posted on

As a reader and writer, I'll always love sitting with a copy of the paper while eating breakfast. For me, seeing my name and article in print is so much more meaningful than having it posted online. I understand why they are doing it, but it's a shame. Especially the eye. I understand posting news stories online, I almost only read the times online. But for long form journalism, it should be printed. Period.

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Anonymous posted on

why Thursday?

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#tbt posted on

I hear it's so they can reuse old papers in celebration of Throwback Thursday instead of printing anything new. Pretty good thinking if you ask me.

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Anonymous posted on

The online articles may disappear in a matter of hours after all that work was put into them, whereas the print you have forever. I sometimes try to look for an article later in the day and it has already frequently been removed.

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Anonymous posted on

I mean, I'm a tad aggravated about this whole deal too (especially The Eye), but we can't say it'll disappear in a matter of hours. That argument kind of gets to me. In ways, the net has more longevity than print. Think about it: more accessibility worldwide, anybody can grab hold of it and keep it forever. Old prints can burn or curl instantly in a fire.

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Anonymous posted on

Another silly online decision to make Gutenburg turn in his grave....

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Jerry Avorn posted on

This is very disappointing. Why, after well over a century of publication, is Spec the only daily in the Ivies that can't successfully manage to put out a daily print edition? What is the matter with the current managing board that it is your year that somehow cannot sustain enough interest or manage finances adequately to produce a daily hard-copy edition in a paper that has been printed since the 19th century? Rather than introducing a new era of digital success, it seems like this year's editors have taken it upon themselves to be the ones to abandon a tradition that has been in place more or less intact since 1877.
One can only hope that as this ill-advised decision becomes more public (it would have been nice not to have seen it first in the Times several days ago), the larger Columbia/Spec community will come together and force a re-thinking of this unprecedented and unwise new direction.

--Jerry Avorn, Spec Managing Board 1968-69
Principal author (with other Spec editors) of "Up Against the Ivy Wall: A History of the Columbia Crisis"

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John Davisson posted on

Dr. Avorn,

It's cheap and ridiculous to suggest that this is about the managing board's competence. The current staff is obviously capable of producing a daily newspaper, having done so already for a semester.

The question is whether it's a smart allocation of Spectator's resources to lay out, run off, and distribute thousands of hard copies every day, given that most readers now access the paper online. As the editors noted above, the business realities and reading habits that made the print edition an ideal format 50 (or even 10) years ago have changed. Spectator is simply changing with them.

Maybe the situation is slightly different for other student papers, or maybe they're just slower to recognize the inevitable. In any event, it's clear that most or all of them will head down this path in the not-too-distant future (some of them too late, I expect).

I share a sense of loss over the decline of print news. But blind adherence to a fading tradition—even one that's a century old—is not a good model for an organization designed to keep people up to date.

—John Davisson

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Jerry Avorn posted on

This is very disappointing. Why, after well over a century of publication, is Spec the only daily in the Ivies that can't successfully manage to put out a daily print edition? What is the matter with the current managing board that it is your year that somehow cannot sustain enough interest or manage finances adequately to produce a daily hard-copy edition in a paper that has been printed since the 19th century? Rather than introducing a new era of digital success, it seems like this year's editors have taken it upon themselves to be the ones to abandon a tradition that has been in place more or less intact since 1877.
One can only hope that as this ill-advised decision becomes more public (it would have been nice not to have seen it first in the Times several days ago), the larger Columbia/Spec community will come together and force a re-thinking of this unprecedented and unwise new direction.

--Jerry Avorn, Spec Managing Board 1968-69
Principal author (with other Spec editors) of "Up Against the Ivy Wall: A History of the Columbia Crisis"

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Anonymous posted on

...Spec wasn't daily in 1877. If you're going to insult the hard word that this managing board does, at least be accurate as you do it. While many might be disappointed with the decision, it makes sense in the context of journalism in 2014 and shouldn't be compared in the context of tradition. Don't insult the hard work of this managing board—that's insulting to the product you're clearly reading and commenting on online.

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Anonymous posted on

Be it print or on-line, the SPEC will still lean left. Nothing will change.

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Anonymous posted on

Uh, its an diverse urban youth ivy league newspaper. What did you think?

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Anonymous posted on

Spectator will become a "greener" publication, as well. And, less ink on one's fingers. You guys need an iPhone App. That should be a top priority!

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CC alum posted on

You have to realize that many students come to Columbia to specifically become writers and journalists and work on a prominent newspaper. Columbia is world renown for journalism. Many Spec alum are at the top of the field. How do you address this issue?

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Finn Vigeland, 137 ME posted on

There is no issue to address here. Students will continue to become writers and journalists and work at a prominent newspaper. Columbia students will not be at any sort of "disadvantage" because their work is principally published online—they will be held to the same high standards, if not higher, that Speccies of days past were.

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except... posted on

Without limitations because of print space, editing and concise writing will become a lost art.

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Anonymous posted on

https://xkcd.com/1227/

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Anonymous posted on

Geezer Spec alums really need to realize that CC students are no longer picking up the paper. There is a ton of newspapers sitting in the bins and not being picked up. This is a huge amount of waste. And it is only worsening.

Spec is taking a courageous leap to the future. Applaud them, you geezers!

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guest posted on

On one recent weekend, I was in Lerner Hall and saw nearly full bins of the paper.

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Anonymous posted on

If Columbia Daily Spectator was founded in 1877, and the Yale Daily was founded in 1878, why is Columbia considered the "second oldest daily college newspaper in the nation?"

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Anonymous posted on

I am so sick of having to read everything on-line. All the flashing things distract me from the content; the lack of hierarchy confuses me as to what is important; the difference between ads and content disappears. Another one bites the dust.

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CU_Alum posted on

Because another paper (the Harvard Crimson, I believe) has been daily longer than Spec has.

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a spectator posted on

"The medium is the message" The Spectator board is going forwards, not backwards.

Radio and movie companies hated television. Telegram firms hated the telephone. Fax machine companies hated e-mails. Etc.... Etc... You can give up your TV and e-mail I'm keeping mine. I'll take Spec on my iPhone, please!

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Good move by 138 posted on

Cutting print was always inevitable - it's smart leadership to take the initiative instead of waiting until Spec is forced to go digital for financial reasons (very clearly not the case here) or to keep up with peer publications. This obviously introduces huge uncertainties into the paper's future, but that's a good thing. Spec has been relatively static for a long time, and nostalgia is not a substantive reason for continuing that tradition. Everyone is entitled to their reservations, but ultimately trailblazing and experimentation should be celebrated, even if they play out imperfectly - this is a student paper, and there's nobody better positioned to play with and push journalism's frontiers than students.

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Anonymous posted on

The other ivies will follow Columbia's lead in a year or two, as they do for everything else.

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Andrea Chipman CC'85 posted on

It sounds like a very sensible decision. It was interesting (though not surprising) to learn that more Spec readers access it online than through the print copy. I particularly approve of the decision to use some of the re-allocated funds to expand the work study program; I remember frequently finding it difficult to balance work study obligations with long days/nights at Spectator.

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Jacqueline Laks Gorman, Spectator Managing Board 1976-77 posted on

I think you are making a serious mistake, and I don't think you've addressed the issues raised by Rick MacArthur. In addition, you speak of this as "trying something new," but what will happen if you decide you've made a mistake? It will likely be extremely difficult to go back to daily print production once you've abandoned it.

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Jonathan Stein, Class of 1964, Former Features Editor posted on

I am both skeptical and hopeful of these changes, although at end believe this decision unwise in light of other options. I think there are real losses, which you hardly acknowledge in your rationale here, when foregoing daily print publication. You don't address a better option of having both a vibrant five day a week print paper with an online edition as the New York Times and countless others do. I'd like to hear why this is impossible to do especially with your enhanced non-print revenues.
Jonathan Stein, Class of 1964, former Spectator Features Editor

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Anonymous posted on

spec sucks

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Harlan Greenman Spectator Managing Board 1978-79 posted on

The Managing Board has made its decision, which is their privilege. The history of print publications that have abandoned print is not exactly a glittering success story. There is an old saying, out of sight, out of mind. Hopefully the lack of a visual reminder across campus and a nightly deadline for a print edition won't prove fatal. Only time will tell (Time, the one still in print and what about Newsweek?). Oh wait, that was Newsweek that stopped printing...worked out really well for them...

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John Davisson posted on

I don't know that national news magazines are the best analogy for student papers. But even accepting that premise, the new Spectator will have a weekly print edition—exactly like Time.

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