Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
If today is Sept. 30 and you’re on the University of Maryland’s campus, there’s probably a print edition of The Diamondback within a few hundred feet of you. You might even be reading one!
But it’s more likely — eight times as likely, in fact — that you’re reading these words online. And that’s why I’m writing to you today.
The Diamondback has been serving the University of Maryland community since 1910, doing so independently since 1971. For countless students, faculty, staff, neighbors and visitors over the decades, reading the campus news meant picking up a print newspaper.
But newspapers are no longer the most effective way to reach many readers at once. And readers certainly don’t find newspapers the most convenient way to get the news. That’s partly why, later this school year, The Diamondback will discontinue its weekly print edition and publish online only.
On behalf of my fellow board members at Maryland Media Inc., the nonprofit group that owns The Diamondback, I want to explain how we arrived at this decision and why we’re excited about The Diamondback’s future as a digital platform.
For those of you who have been following the struggles of the news industry the past couple decades, and watched as we cut our print edition from five days a week, to four, and then to one: this might be disappointing news. But many of you may not notice a change at all. You read us online. And I’m glad you do — not just because you trust us to report fairly and accurately on the campus community, but because it means you already find value in the digital version of The Diamondback.
In fact, the steady growth of The Diamondback’s online audience convinced us this was the right time to end the print edition, particularly as print costs have begun to overtake print revenue for good. The existence of a healthy digital community is the result of the tireless and innovative work of The Diamondback’s student leadership over the past few years. The Diamondback’s website, dbknews.com, attracts as many as 160,000 unique visitors per month. This digital audience is roughly 800 percent larger than the current print audience. More people are reading The Diamondback than ever before.
Just as The Diamondback has a responsibility to the campus and College Park community, Maryland Media Inc. has a responsibility to The Diamondback’s student staff. We need to make sure we’re providing our students with the best preparation for their careers. We think the trends make it clear we’re better off focusing our resources on digital journalism.
According to a 2011 study, Sunday and weekday newspaper circulation both fell below 50 percent of U.S. households roughly 15 years ago, as part of a long, steady decline. Another study found that total circulation of U.S. daily newspapers has been cut almost in half since then.
To put those together: If you’re a student today, you’re less likely than your parents and far less likely than your grandparents to have grown up reading newspapers. The odds might be even lower for your children. This is the market our student journalists will graduate into, and it’s the market they’re serving today in College Park.
There’s a part of me that feels strange about all this. Back in 1992, I went up to The Diamondback’s newsroom looking for a job on my second day on the campus. I loved newspapers and collected them wherever I went. I still have clippings of some of my articles and even entire papers. But that was a different world. Our phones were landlines. We didn’t have a reliable way to file copy from the road. We developed film in a darkroom. Times change.
It’s likely that you’re reading these words on a handheld device that has more processing power than NASA had for Apollo 11. The journalism industry used to think of the internet as a boutique technology, home to a niche audience. Today, it’s simply how we communicate.
And now, after almost 110 years, we’re fully embracing a medium whose ubiquity in our daily lives would have been unthinkable when we began.
And the next time they do, The Diamondback will be here to tell you all about it.
Tom Madigan is the board president of Maryland Media Inc, the parent company of The Diamondback. He is a former Diamondback sports editor, among many other things.