If it’s THEIR print, that is:

Students have returned to college campuses armed with laptops, smart phones and countless other electronic gadgets. Yet most still turn to a print newspaper for their campus news.

The printed versions of college newspapers continue to thrive, with students grabbing copies as they go from one class to another. It’s not unusual to see students reading about the latest campus news while eating a quick lunch or taking a break on the lawn.

It’s far less likely that the wired generation, raised with iPods and smart phones, is checking out the news on the newspaper’s website.

I can’t tell you how many college journalism events I go to, where they discuss “the future of journalism.” The only time student media even comes up is for someone to deplore it as unserious and students’ love of it as insignificant. It only counts as reading a paper if you read the Times, kids!

Some of this is the usual amateur versus professional argument with which blogtopia is familiar. Some of it is that a lot of our pundit critters aren’t researchers, and just say things based on the last poll to cross their desks. But they ignore the reasons student papers succeed, and the reasons they do succeed could be valuable lessons to media companies that have responded to the loss of customers by making their products worse:

“College newspapers are niche publications,” said Lloyd Goodman, director of student publications at the university. “Students like to pick it up, read it over lunch. It’s still a community newspaper.”

That may help explain why, in general, local commercial newspapers have had trouble gaining a foothold with students. Several of the college newspaper advisors I spoke with described repeated — and unsuccessful — efforts by commercial newspapers in their areas to sell more on campus.

“I don’t see students hovering over the Los Angeles Times here,” said Mona Cravens, director of student publications at the University of Southern California. “The faculty, staff and students have come to rely on the Daily Trojan for what’s going on on campus.”

The campus is their town, and the campus paper covers their town. It’s easy to get, it’s useful and convenient to them, and it’s distributed where they see it all the time. What’s in it varies widely from campus to campus, and the skill with which it’s produced varies as well, but it’s their paper. That sense of ownership and loyalty requires some hard work and money to build, but once built it’s hard to lose. Media companies today destroyed it on purpose in relentless pursuit of profit, forgetting where those profits come from in the first place:

Stephen Heleker, student body president at Boise State University, told me in an e-mail that students spend so much time on computers doing school work that “they value the respite offered” by the print version of the college newspaper. “It definitely becomes part of the routine at college.”

A newspaper, part of your daily routine. Imagine.

x-posted at First Draft

A.