A Fond – but Necessary – Farewell to The Aquin

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard a few squeals of protest from former Aquin editors lamenting the planned disappearance of the hard-copy newspaper – this Friday’s edition will be the final one – in favor of the “all-digital student media convergence” at TommieMedia.com beginning this fall.

They argue that a newspaper distributed around campus attracts readers not likely to go to a specific website and provides a permanent record, holding student reporters accountable for the stories they write.

I am as traditional a journalist (and news consumer) as you can find. I spent 26 years chasing news stories. I can’t imagine eating breakfast without a copy of a newspaper in front of me. And I don’t want to think about taking a computer screen into the john.

But I am also a realist and, my friends, this train has left the station. The ship has sailed. Web-based journalism is here to stay and the evidence mounts daily, from Seattle to Denver to the Twin Cities.

So, I’m thinking the St. Thomas Department of Communication and Journalism might as well lead the way, rather than following heel marks on the news-gathering landscape. The fact that UST is out front is illustrated by the attention the TommieMedia announcement attracted.

“Next semester,” David Brauer reported in MinnPost.com, “the campus newspaper will be like the rotary telephone on the St. Thomas: extinct…

“Earlier this year, the Minnesota Daily dropped its Friday print edition to become, in editor Vadim Lavrusik’s word, a ‘seven-day news provider’ with a weekend online edition. On some level, St. Thomas is just cutting to the chase in the battle for the future.”

Here’s why I think that future is brighter now for UST student journalists:

News stories can be posted daily, not weekly, making Tommie journalists more competitive, especially with stories that attract attention from the downtown professional media. When a student goes missing, St. Thomas student reporters won’t have to wait a week to get the story out.

TommieMedia advisers are dedicated to covering news stories of importance to the UST community. They are unequivocal: “We will continue to practice journalism, but we will do more of it in a more realistic way. In other words, we’ll emphasize more news and less paper.”

The advisers, all six of them, are thoughtful teachers, scholars AND professionals. Two of them have decades of daily newspaper experience and one is a veteran broadcast news reporter. All of them know how important it is to cover the St. Thomas community – fearlessly and fairly.

TommieMedia will provide valuable practical experience – and perhaps a little, daily deadline spirit – for broadcast, public relations and advertising majors: ads to be designed and sold, promotions to be developed and launched, and video tracks to be shot, written, edited and posted with 24 hours.

Printing a hard-copy Aquin is wasteful – not enough bang for the buck. The cost is almost $20,000 a year to print 2,600 copies of the paper each week. And each week, I see anywhere from two to 10 bundles of the paper lying on the floor or on counters in front of the post office.

So, I am facing the inevitable, embracing the technology and awaiting the arrival of TommieMedia.com. But the truth is I shall miss walking into Scooter’s in the morning and seeing a half-dozen students at the tables, their heads down, reading their own personal copy of The Aquin.

That is my definition of a shared experience.