From the Editor: A New Chapter
By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
I have a friend on campus who frequently prods me with the question: “How’s print media doing?”
The implication, of course, is that it is a dying breed, that people prefer to read news digitally on their own terms rather than wait for a periodical aggregation on paper with a shelf life that lasts only until the next development, which, in our fast-paced world, tends to be measured in minutes or hours, not days or weeks.
Over the past several years, that has, indeed, been our experience at The Gettysburgian. Although we have experienced explosive growth across our digital platforms (we are on pace to serve more than 200,000 readers this year on our website, which is up from 48,000 just four years ago), fewer and fewer of our print newspapers are leaving the newsstands to which our friends at Alpha Phi Omega so kindly deliver them every two weeks. Acknowledging that reality, in 2014, The Gettysburgian cut its print frequency from every week to every other.
Producing a print newspaper that only a couple hundred people read is a lot of work, and, frankly, it is disheartening to see unread papers sit on the shelves after a team of several dozen collectively spend hundreds of hours producing them. Clearly, the reach (and, more importantly, the impact) of our print newspaper pales in comparison to what we do online. And, given the array of activities the unbelievably committed members of our team pursue, I am laser-focused on making sure that The Gettysburgian uses the team’s time and talent efficiently to produce the high-impact journalism to which I hope the campus has grown accustomed.
With that, today, I am announcing a change. Effective this fall, The Gettysburgian will no longer print a biweekly newspaper. In its place, I am beyond thrilled to announce that — three times each semester — we will publish a news magazine. Free from the constraints of time-sensitive news aggregation, the magazine will instead pursue in-depth investigations, incisive profile pieces, and fun features that illuminate the student experience in a way that was not possible in our biweekly print format. It is something new, to be sure, but I am convinced that, for a print product to succeed, it must provide something distinctive, giving people a reason to pick it up. Our former newspaper — with most of its contents having already appeared online — could no longer provide that. This magazine, we hope, will.
As the steward of a 122-year tradition of student journalism at Gettysburg College (and a general crank with an aversion to change), I take no pleasure in ending such a venerable tradition of news presentation. In fact, writing this column has stoked an air of melancholy. What gives me confidence, though, is that the foundation on which this tradition has rested will stay the same. We merely are presenting it in the format of our time, just as our predecessors did before us.
A commitment to displaying the rhythms of the college campus will remain at the heart of everything we do to inform, inspire, challenge, and empower our current campus community and to provide a rich and representative historical record for posterity. While that commitment to produce excellent content remains unwavering, we will continue to consider how best to package and deliver it to our audience. Neither the temptation to grow complacent in blindly following the ways of the past nor to make a change for the sake of making a change can eclipse a thoughtful process that relies on our data, our experience, and our traditions to make the best decisions we can. I would not have made this decision had I not felt we followed that process.
“Great storytelling matters, and that is exactly what we intend to do.”
On one hand, you may reasonably ask why — at a time when print media is undoubtedly less popular than it once was, and when, through a website, social media, and a custom app, we have made a significant investment into the digital storytelling that is the way of the future — we would invest just as much in a new print product. It is, indeed, a gamble, but it is one I am comfortable making because of the confidence I have in our organization’s capacity to produce the type of rich, textured stories that continue to make magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and New York Times Magazine so successful. Great storytelling matters, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
On the other hand, you may reasonably ask why — at a time when we have tripled the size of our staff, doubled the size of our readership, and won statewide awards for the work of our news, opinions, and photography teams — we would shake up what has been a successful formula. It is precisely because we are in a position of such organizational strength that we have the luxury to ensure that the publication stands on a firm foundation so that can both spread its wings and soar and can weather a potential oncoming storm.
It is important to note that neither financial exigency nor administrative directive in any way prompted or encouraged this decision. It arose from a strategic planning process our editorial team conducted over the summer and was presented to the college and our advisor for approval late in July. Since then, we have worked with a local firm on the design and concept for this new venture. The first issue will be published on Thursday, Sep. 26, just in time for President Bob Iuliano’s installation weekend.
I know that, for some members of the campus community, this change will spark passionate reaction one way or the other, while, for many, it will not register as something of which to take note. It is not lost on me that this process has moved quickly from a mere idea to a forthcoming reality in the course of just a few months, but I want to reiterate, in closing, that it has been the result of a considered process in which I have consulted a range of voices both from our team and from mentors and advisors from around campus.
In some ways, that process is a metaphor for the reality of what this organization has done for 122 years: gather input, seek out the wisdom of advisors, make bold decisions, check the spelling, and roll them out. It just happens faster now.
Benjamin Pontz ’20