If press gives in to external pressures, then how can we really call ourselves as press? This is, in fact, what has occurred with many recent university newspapers. Not all, but some have lost their role and identity by avoiding to handle any important issues that could stain the school’s reputation. This has become even more obvious this year, as the major papers have sought out to cover campus problems such as private school pension systems, meal tickets, and the student council instead of university papers. These phenomena can make readers stop reading university newspaper. This is not the problem of media itself only. The Washington Post, one of the world’s most famous major papers, was sold to Jeff Bezos, an American internet entrepreneur and investor. Other major newspapers are experiencing sharp declines in subscriptions as well. The newspaper subscription rate in South Korea has also dropped rapidly from 69.3 percent (1996) to 11.6 percent (2013) over the last 17 years according to KISDI (Korea Information Society Development Institute) research. University newspapers are not an exception. Because of the changes in its role and identity with social change, the problem is more grave. With all these problems, will the end of the university newspaper arrive? What should The Dongguk Post do to continue its existence and remain as an influential news source?
When South Korea used to be called “one of the four dragons.” of East Asia with strong economic growth up until early 1997, the financial structure was not a problem for university newspapers. Overall, Korea was prosperous and universities had no difficulty in financially supporting their own papers. Also, the internet was not as prevalent as it currently is. However, everything has dramatically changed. Universities are now reducing their support and using finances as a “carrot” for university newspapers. The internet has threatened printed newspapers as well. Students use community websites for communicating and gaining information. A lot of university-related news is shared through an SNS and the university webpage. Because of these changes, many university newspapers have failed to find their footing. As they say in Game of Thrones, winter is coming, for printing media.
After speaking with senior reporters who have worked at The Dongguk Post before 1997, the Post learned of many changes that had been made in an intension to improve. For instance, before the introduction of digital cameras, reporters had to develop films but printing equipment was unavailable that they had to visit other offices. Also, there was no easy way to share information compared to nowadays when most people can access the internet easily through the use of electronic devices.
|Above are the preserved articles in archives. As they piled up, the Post grew with heavier responsibilities.|
Facing these circumstances, The Dongguk Post reporters did their best to survive and adapt to the changes. The Post changed from being published as a printed newspaper to a magazine in 1994 to follow the trend and again went from a magazine to a newspaper in 2009 to expand its reader base. The Post reformed its organization structure from being a strict vertical system to a more horizontal system by reducing nameplates, distributing more rights, and changing addressing terms. The Post created the webpage (www.dgupost.com) and Facebook account. Also, the Post introduced a new proofreading system and changed various sections, layout, and font.
Furthermore, the Post tried to advertise and encourage more participation by opening English essay contests. A feedback box was created, and articles from different professors were published.
The changes did not end. Until now, the Post has tried to change for readers and attempted to create a high quality newspaper. From 2012, the Post participated in UKCEM, (Union of Korean College English Media) where 21 universities such as Korea Univeristy, Hanyang University, and Ewha Womans University meet to give feedback on each other’s articles and to promote friendship among student reporters. In 2013, there have been more improvements in the paper as well, such as a combining of the second and third page for campus issues, a various selections of articles for the news section, as well as a unified topic for the opinion page.
Despite these various efforts by the prior and current reporters, there are some problems that are not easy to resolve. One of these is that the term of each reporter ends every two and a half years, so any newly implemented sections and plans usually end with their terms. For instance, when the 42nd editor-in-chief, Kim Sang-young, was in charge, he created various sections in the paper, such as a crossword puzzle section and an English clinic, in order to increase the number of readers. However, over time, these sections disappeared once new leadership took over. Another attempt by a previous reporter was to make the use of The Dongguk Post’s paper as an auxiliary textbook in university English classes. It was suggested that some classes, such as “Writing and Presentations and Basic English Reading” could use the paper in their classes for students to improve their reading comprehension skills.
The usage of the Post’s webpage was chosen as an area that had a lot of rooms for improvement. One of its merits was that it could be quickly and conveniently updated. One big reason why it has not become so successful is that the reporters lack professional skills to take care of the webpage. It will be challenging for student reporters to overcome the difficulty.
Nonetheless, the current reporters are willing to show a strong effort to improve the quality of articles and to increase the number of readers. In order for this to actually happen, we have come up with specific plans that can help us grow. The most crucial and essential part is advertising. There are still students on campus who do not know the exact location of the Post or even its existence. This could be due to the fact that only a handful of students have a command of English. It is understandable that English is not familiar to a lot of students, but there is a possibility for students to gain increased awareness of the existence. Putting up notices of our publishing dates for a semester on stands in front of the entrances of every building could be one way to resolve the problem. Creating a new section where avid readers can express their opinions on the articles could be another way. By receiving feedbacks from the readers, the Post can look back in reflection and correct any mistakes and allow others to express their opinions.
Besides the annual essay contest held in every second semester of the school year, the Postcould also hold a speech contest where students can orally share their opinions on certain issues. Some people may be more comfortable with speaking than writing, so this may be one of the ways to receive high participation from students and encourage them to improve their English speaking skills.
Using the technology of 21st century, such as the internet and smart phones, is also a good way to publicize the paper.
The Dongguk Post’s current Facebook account does a decent job in letting people know of our activities. On top of that, if the Post could use other media, such as Twitter, it could definitely increase reader awareness. Some students prefer a certain SNS, so creating different SNS could be an effective way to communicate with the readers. An application on smart phones would also be another way to increase the accessibility to our articles. Nowadays, it is rather difficult to find people who do not use smart phones. If the Post can come up with its own application, like the major press such as the New York Times or Time magazine, the articles could be accessed by more people at their leisure.
In order for all the methods mentioned above to work out well, the first thing that must be done is improving the quality of articles. All the publicizing activities would be of no use if our articles are neither interesting nor informative to our readers. Therefore, the most significant part of improving the paper is to educate the reporters. Some of the past Post reporters are now working in the field of professional journalism. With their help, current student reporters could be educated and trained to write better articles. There are limitations that the Post faces every day, because the reporters lack professional training and guides. If we can receive help from these reporters who have moved on, the standard of our articles will definitely be improved upon.
Besides education and training, interaction and communication among university reporters would also be a way to improve the quality of our articles. As this UKCEM was only founded last year there have not yet been a lot of activities planned, but the members of the union’s committee are in the process of planning several activities such as publishing UKCEM’s own newspaper and allowing peer evaluations where reporters could work together and share their own ideas. During this semester, the Post is working with Sogang University and Duksung Women’s University for peer evaluations.UKCEM is also planning to work with the Korea Times to contribute articles in their paper. The exact plan has not been confirmed yet, but one of the articles from UKCEM will be a part of the Korea Times’ new section where university students can share their opinions.
The current papers, especially the English newspapers at universities, are being challenged due to the changes in the society and much developed technology. The Dongguk Post also fully realizes how crucial this generation is. The reporters are are striving to adapt to such changes so the readers would want to seek out. The Dongguk Post hopes this issue will be a huge milestone not only for the reporters, but also for our readers. It is the Post’s wish to continually inform the readers with our articles.
Lee So-young, Kim Du-hyeon firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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