By Elm Section Editors
With funding issues across the board at Washington College, The Elm is the latest among student-run organizations to be put to the axe.
The Elm, which has been around since 1930,is one of the most consistently active student-run organizations at WC, and is one of the longest-printed college newspapers. It has existed as a cornerstone of the community for almost a century, but currently, the future of the publication is uncertain.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many student newspapers have struggled to maintain their print publications. According to NiemanLab, “Many [have] already ceased printing or reduced publication schedules. Still, deserted campuses and slashed student life budgets have taken a particularly high toll on student newspapers and magazines over the last year.”
To account for our monetary issues, we adapted to publishing in print on a bi-weekly basis this year. The Elm was previously in print every week.
We will most likely continue this hybrid schedule to save money and to prevent a potential switch to online only. Additionally, we combined the distribution and business manager positions and removed our photography editor position for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year. However, these changes only address a small portion of our problems.
We are currently one of the only student-led publications that pays our entire staff. While the journalism experience is beneficial without pay and can be added to one’s resume, the monetary incentive is a nice bonus and an aspect of The Elm that does not apply to a majority of college publications, making ours unique.
The Elm is a crucial aspect of the College’s literary community, and creates amazing opportunities for students to learn more about the journalism field. We encourage all students to apply for the staff writer position, regardless of prior experience.
In the upcoming semester, we hope to broaden this reach and focus on students outside of the English and Communications departments to hear from a variety of students and include different perspectives in the sections. Our returning sports editor is a data science major, and we plan to find more students from other disciplines.
Many former editor-in-chiefs have gone on to graduate school or currently maintain careers in the journalism field, proving The Elm’s strong career trajectory.
Writing for The Elm gives students the opportunity to use their voice and report on both on-campus issues and current events.
This year alone, we published articles discussing a number of hot-button issues on campus. Most recently, a staff writer wrote about the archaeology lab relocation for the news section. This situation did not receive much attention on campus, and the piece accurately discussed the varying information regarding the staff members, as well as the importance of the archaeology lab on campus as a valuable resource for students. Without this piece, the majority of the campus would have remained unaware of this issue.
Both news and opinion covered the desktop miscommunication between the Student Government Association and the administration. Writers were able to discuss the issue at hand and convey the correct information to readers, as well as hold the SGA and administration accountable.
Student Life has continued to successfully cover a variety of student-led events on campus, highlighting Greek Life, affinity groups, and new clubs. Lifestyle features film and television reviews, as well as pop culture and student-focused pieces. Sports celebrates the achievements of our athletic teams and features coach profiles, which introduces staff writers to different journalistic writing styles.
The variety of articles covered in The Elm not only provide readers with accurate and unbiased information, but it also engages the campus community and keeps everyone informed.
Our social media page grew immensely this year in terms of posts to account for our bi-weekly web issues.
Weekly posts encourage followers to read the articles online, and on the Thursdays that we are in print, our web editor and social media manager posts photos of students reading the print copies of The Elm. Students from a variety of clubs band together in these posts, which help to build campus support for the publication.
However, this support from students is absent from the administration, as we lack the funds to continue publishing in print every week.
Last semester, upon returning to campus for yearly training, which was hybrid because of budget problems, student editors learned that their print run would be slashed in half in favor of printing bi-weekly.
During the weeks we are only online, the lack of campus involvement and relationship with The Elm is apparent, despite the fact that we send emails about the issue. Since switching to the bi-weekly print schedule, many students believe the paper only publishes every other week, so, in our experience, we believe that many do not read the online articles.
According to Forbes, readership tends to decrease when a publication switches to an online-only format: “Format matters. Readers just don’t spend as much time reading a digital periodical as they spend reading a print one.”
If fewer people are reading the online articles, they are missing out on important pieces that cover current events on campus. We try to save our more pressing articles for print, which shows an obvious favoritism because of our increased readership compared to web issues.
The print issues of The Elm are also distributed downtown, which help bridge the gap between the campus and the Chestertown community. Our news section has looked to increase coverage on local news in addition to on-campus news to build a connection with the community.
While Kent County News and The Elm often work hand-in-hand to keep members of the Chestertown community informed and engaged, we may be at risk of becoming a news desert.
According to The Washington Post, “News deserts are communities lacking a news source that provides meaningful and trustworthy local reporting on issues such as health, government, and the environment. It’s a vacuum that leaves residents ignorant of what’s going on in their world, incapable of fully participating as informed citizens.”
Small towns and rural areas like Chestertown are especially at risk of becoming a news desert due to budget issues and lack of local papers. Kent County News and The Elm are single-handedly keeping community members informed of both local and on-campus news, but for how much longer?
According to The Washington Post, “One-third of American newspapers that existed roughly two decades ago will be out of business by 2025…Already, some 2,500 dailies and weeklies have shuttered since 2005; there are fewer than 6,500 left. Every week, two more disappear.”
Newspapers are dropping like flies, and the disappointing aspect is that not every publication has the ability to switch to online. The Elm is lucky to have the opportunity to publish articles online every week, but it is clear to us that we benefit from being in print.
The Elm is a crucial part of both the WC and Chestertown communities; it introduces students to the journalism field, keeps everyone informed, and bridges the gap between the College and the Chestertown community.
The Elm will turn 100 in 2030, but as of right now, it is unclear if we will be able to celebrate this milestone with a print issue.
Elm Archive Photo.
Photo Caption: At the start of the 2022-2023 school year, The Elm switched to a hybrid schedule, where the paper publishes in print every other week.