By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

College students and newspapers

I’ve received several e-mails today from folks who saw my quote in today’s New York Times and wanted to commiserate with me about my observation that, on the one occasion when I had an opportunity to teach freshmen journalism students, I discovered that very few of them had previously read a newspaper.

It’s true — I’ve got no complaints with the Times reporter, Richard Pérez-Peña, who quoted me accurately. And I didn’t think I was saying anything controversial, given that I was talking about 18-year-olds. But the point I was hoping to make was slightly different from the way it came out.

At the time I was teaching that class, in the fall of 2007, I made it a requirement that my students pick up a Boston Globe every morning. It was not an onerous task — the Globe was distributed free on campus. By the end of the semester, quite a few students told me they enjoyed the experience, and intended to keep reading the paper.

Then the Globe ended free distribution. I don’t think it’s a contradiction for me to say that the Globe, in general, should be charging more for its print edition, but that to stop freebies for college students was not a smart move.

These days there are so few Globes on campus that I would have a hard time even requiring everyone to buy a copy.

Tuesday follow-up. Peter Porcupine asks, Why the Globe and not the Herald? To which I offer several answers: (1) the Globe was distributed free on campus; the Herald wasn’t; (2) even now, it’s harder to find a Herald on campus than a Globe; (3) I wanted my students reading a metropolitan daily characteristic of such papers across the country. Despite my high esteem for the Phoenix, for instance, I didn’t require my students to read that, either.

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17 Comments

  1. LFNeilson

    In days of yore, (early 70’s) I remember students who would deposit a quarter in the Globe vending machine and remove all the papers, leaving them (next to the stacks of BAD) on the floor of the Ell Center tunnel. That had to be frustrating for the people running the vending operation, but it still counted as circulation.zzzzzzz

  2. DanH

    That’s why they call them “honor boxes” and along with other signs of the decline of western civilization [g], honor is now in shorter supply.

  3. Peter Porcupine

    DK – why the Globe? IIRC, the children hawking the Herald for 25 cents in the Fenway would be happy to have non-vehicular customers.You DID mean to stipulate newspaper, not a specific BRAND, right? >:~)

  4. djcmurphy

    Dan,I had the same experience with college students when I was teaching a broadcast news writing course many years ago. The number of would-be news producers who have never been news consumers is astounding. I’m in a high school setting now, and the main focus is not on getting them to read a paper (which is probably a lost cause), but on teaching them to be more discerning in selecting their sources of information.

  5. Patricia of Trakai

    I recall getting the Globe in my mailbox at BU’s Warren Towers in the late 1970s. However, I honestly can’t remember whether it was a freebie or whether I paid for it.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    PP: The Globe is the paper that was distributed for free on campus.

  7. rozzie02131

    I delivered the Globe on my college campus in Maine in the 70’s. It was a pretty good route – most dorms would have a couple of subscribers per hall, maybe one out of every 10 rooms. It was half price, definitely not free, and I got to keep about half of that for my efforts.

  8. RobbieH

    I’ve come to the conclusion that schools bear at least as much responsibility for the devaluing of current events in this country as newspapers. Five years ago, when I was a senior in high school, my history teacher was the first person to ever require that I (encompassing the class in general, of course) pick up a newspaper every week. And even then the assignment was neither as comprehensive or creative as it could have been (each student in the class had to find an article and summarize it for Friday’s class). Still, it got me in the newspaper habit (prior to that I didn’t generally tread much past the sports page if there happened to be a newspaper around the house, and this is speaking as someone who has grown up as an otherwise avid reader).Still, it puzzles me that newspapers, at least in my experience, virtually do not enter very much into the daily curriculum. I can imagine it from a cost perspective to a degree, but with programs such as Newspapers in Education, and the fact that newspapers should be focused on instilling the newspaper habit early for their very survival, it would seem a logical leap that schools and newspapers would extensively collaborate on getting the product into the classroom. I think this is my principle concern with the decline of print newspapers. If children and young adults do not see parents, relatives, older siblings etc. engaging with newspapers at home, and are not introduced to them as an important component of civic life at school, when exactly are they going to learn to engage with them? The computer screen is much more isolating an experience than a print newspaper provides. Putting aside the print nostalgia factor, it seems that from an educational and business standpoint it is quite understandable why the old model is falling apart so rapidly. It seems like that is where the real attention should be focused.

  9. Jerry

    Can’t say that it is still happening but the US Military Academy (West Point) 15 years ago required every plebe/cadet (first year) to not only read the NY Times every day but be ready to answer any question presented to them, during morning drill and roll call, about anything that appeared on Page One. The Army’s point was that it’s important to know what’s going on in the world and you better learn that right now, soldier.

  10. ron-newman

    When I went to MIT in the late 1970s, several pages of the day’s New York Times were always pasted to a column in the main lobby of 77 Mass. Ave. Students would stand around the pillar reading it, sometimes talking to each other about the news stories.I don’t remember whether the Globe was also posted there, or when this tradition finally ended.

  11. NewsHound

    No matter the obstacle, getting a newspaper out to all of the public is not a discretionary decision – – – it is necessary to stay in business. That means copies must be available always, everywhere in Boston, at an affordable price by most of the population. Otherwise, the newspaper is doomed for failure. Newspapers are for virtually everybody, about everybody, and if young people are not interested to buy and read, the editorial model is not working.Either meet these demands or go out of business, but not putting out a newspaper for virtually everybody and available to everyone is not an option.

  12. O-FISH-L

    Jerry, the NY Times should be required reading not just for the military academies, but for the ROTC programs and boot camps as well. That way, both our future officers and enlisted folks could learn about our classified military secrets as soon as our enemies do.

  13. O'Rion

    When I was in school the WSJ aggressively tried to be the paper of choice in most contemporary affairs and media programs in classrooms. They offered a nice rate. Just like listening to music on the radio is over, so too is reading newspapers. And for college sudents now, you have to wonder if it’s something they ever did?

  14. Michael Pahre

    “Why the Globe and not the Herald?”Quality. Go ahead and admit it, it’s OK to say it.And, yes, when the Herald’s Howie Carr rants about the Globe he ironically undercuts his own argument.I vowed long ago never, ever to pay for a copy of the Herald as long as Carr wrote for them. And I haven’t.

  15. Peter Porcupine

    DK – Twenty Five bucks pays for newspaper delivery for a local middle school classroom via Newspapers In Education. Even better than college is getting kids hooked on newsreading even earlier. I wish more people made that small investment. It may not be the Glob or WSJ – but it’s a start.

  16. ron-newman

    I became a newspaper reader at about the age of 4 because my parents subscribed to the newspaper. The habit has lasted for life. How is is that these college kids never read the paper at home?

  17. Patricia of Trakai

    To Ron: When I was in my 20s back in the 1980s, I noticed that a fair number of my peers, and those who were a bit younger than I, did not read newspapers. Those people are the parents of today’s college students. If they never got exposed to newspapers in the home, they probably think they are totally unnecessary.

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