It has been some time since the recession of campus journalism was first brought up for discussion. With the fast-paced digital innovations and social media’s domination of news sources, traditional media, no matter how renowned or influential, struggled to maintain their readership. While larger papers managed to salvage their readership, campus papers in Korea still seem to struggle with recession, many barely managing to survive. Though this problem has been prevalent and intensifying for the past decade, the complexity of the issue and different reasons for decline among universities have prevented its full eradication. What was once a powerful source of student opinions and movement is now in decline.
Over the summer, Ewha Voice has searched for possible benchmark models in universities in the U.S. with strong and renowned journalism schools, and for the first issue of the overseas special, the focus will be on Korean campus press, its situation, and the reasons.
Statistics: what are the reasons for its decline?
Last year, Deadline, an organization of campus press, revealed statistics of the current state of campus journalism in Korea, having surveyed 87 student reporters.
“Campus journalism is currently facing various problems such as declining readerships, conflicts with faculty advisors, and dwindling financial support from schools,” stated Deadline as they released their research statistics.
Much like popular belief, the lack of students’ readership was stated as the most prominent reason for its decline. However, internal and structural problems were also major obstacles to innovation and objectivity. One main concern expressed was the way many universities tend to treat campus journalism as their tool of propaganda.
According to Deadline, only 18.4 percent of newspapers were independent from the university; 54.7 percent were directly managed by the presidents’ office, 16.3 percent by the student affairs department, and 10.3 percent by the public relations department. As many are run directly under the management of the university, reporters are often barred from openly criticizing the school, and conflicts arise regarding editorial rights.
“There are times where wordings of my article would change in its final editing stages,” said a college reporter who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s not something big such as changing my topic or preventing my article from being published, but the overall tone of the article is softened, minimizing the impact of the story.”
In some extreme cases, although not often, student newspapers have printed blank newspapers in act of defiance and in expression of their integrity against the school administration. Most recently, Seoul National University News (SNUNews) printed a blank front page, a first in their 65-year history.
“Seoul National University’s official press SNUNews is printing a blank first page in objection against the invasion of editorial rights by the former faculty editor and university authorities,” read the front page issued on March 13 this year. The main conflict arose around the debate of which topic deserved more weight; 70th anniversary of SNU or student protest, where the school preferred the former while student reporters believed the latter deserved more attention.
Financial issues were also another very influential factor. With the decline in readership, many universities are reducing the number of papers printed and the length of each issue. Only 8 percent of campus newspapers print 11 issues per semester, while 54 percent print under six issues. The main cause of the problem is the decreasing number of applicants for these campus newspapers. Half of the newspapers are run with less than 10 staff members, and only around 9 percent manage themselves with more than 10.
The main concern of student reporters is the decline in applicants due to lack of interest. The decrease in applicants cause shortages in operational staff for the newspapers, ultimately leading to less diversity and lower quality of the articles. In hand with the continuous decline in readership, the papers are losing their defining colors, and are facing further interference from the school authorities.
“I believe students usually think running a newspaper is extremely time-consuming, as well as draining compared to other student activities,” said Lee Ye-eun, a junior at Sogang University who occasionally reads Sogang University News. “Also, since the content is mostly centered on campus issues, students don’t feel the need to read the papers, and hence it is no longer considered a necessary activity.”
The heavy workload of student reporters is not hidden from the college community. Recently, a well-read university magazine University Tomorrow carried an article addressing the negative view of students toward school newspapers. Printed under the “20s’ ‘this is real’” section where the topics focus on stories students empathize with, the article, “I told you campus newspapers are difficult,” outlined how much work and stress a student reporter goes through while working for a campus newspaper. The article explicitly displays the recession of campus newspapers, detailing how a reporter faced having to single-handedly run the newspaper, the school’s upper hand in content, and repetitive concern over the paper’s readership.
Despite the student community’s empathy, there is little improvement with campus journalism’s situation, once again mainly revolving around their dwindling readership.