Has Technology Killed the Print Media Star?

The continued importance of Print Student Media in a digital world


Words || James Booth

The inventors of the Printing press in 1440 revolutionised the way we consume media. It provided the opportunity for mass communication of ideas and changed the way in which we circulate information forever. The inventors of the first printing press could surely not have had any idea of how it would evolve. They could not have imagined the laser or thermal printing of  late 1960’s and early 1970’s. They would have never even dreamed of the internet.

However, the invention of the internet has revolutionised the way we engage with content forever; we have kindles to read books, online copies of textbooks, and we even can scroll down Twitter or Facebook to learn about news and current affairs.

All of this begs the question as to why print media and publications haven’t died as they were predicted to, if video killed the radio star then surely wouldn’t technological have killed the print media star?

As Editor in Chief of a student publication, I’m all too familiar with navigating discussions on whether or not Grapeshot Magazine should push to become an online publication rather than print.

This is something that student publications have been fighting against for years, as technological advancement continues to change the media industry, the general consensus of the population is that it is easier to consume content using online sources.

This was corroborated by the Deloitte Media Consumer Survey of 2018, which for the first time did not report on the consumption of print media by Australian respondents and instead focused primarily on the way in which we consume digital media sources.

However the 2017 Media Consumer Survey did find that 37% of respondents most frequently use digital sources to consume news content. Moreover millennials  were found in the 2017 survey to most frequently consume their news digitally, with 50% of trailing millennials (aged 14-27) and 57% of leading millennials (aged 28-33), consuming their news most frequently through digital sources.

With this evidence, surely student media editors should just accept that the future is upon us and just push for our inevitable digital future?

Such a sentiment has the usual commercial benefits – physical print copies take time and monetary resources to create, and student media publications are no different. Each edition of a Grapeshot Magazine, Honi Soit, Vertigo etc. costs money to print, where as it is a lot cheaper for publications and articles to be posted online. Moreover print editions must be sent off up-to 2 weeks prior to their release, which means that the news, affairs, or opinions they release must remain relevant to an unknown future political climate.

Online distributions are cheaper, can happen faster, and with the 2018 Deloitte Media Survey finding that the majority of millennials are consuming their news online anyway – this may leave you thinking, what is even the point of having print media if people are less likely to engage with it and it consumes resources?

Great question. It can seem pretty easy to think about media in terms of financial and physical resource usage alone. Much in the same way it can be easy to think of something like social marketing campaigns advocating people testing more for STIs, while the use of resources may not provide a product that is financially viable, it is useful for the cultural and social benefits that such a campaign offers.

This is the crux of assessing benefit. An acknowledgement that the cultural or social benefit of a program, publication, or policy can outweigh its financial viability. Print media, and in particular print student media, offers a great deal more cultural and social benefit than it does offer financial viability. Grapeshot magazines, like most student publications, are free to pick up, and are the result of a lot of volunteer work from the team.

The role of student publications on university campuses is multifaceted; they have offered a key opportunity for media, creative writing, and journalism students to build experience for their careers; they provide a means for students to remain up to date with issues affecting their generation specifically; and they have traditionally been independent sources which hold university administrations accountable for any decisions which go against the interests of the student population.

If student media offers so much social and cultural value to university life, and will continue to do so, then it should continue in its current print media form.

When the Student Representative Committee (SRC) is given $200,000 to organise the RE:CONCEPTION festival, and our Student Services Amenities Fee (SSAF) totals $6,288,120 to be distributed to the students, the question must be asked as to why discussions of student media going online are even happening? Especially given that the most recently made available annual report, of Macquarie University’s financial performance, identified a $48 million net financial result.

In saying this, a university must fund many more projects than a print student magazine. Historically there have been pushes from members of the SRC, and discussions brought up by members of University administration, that Grapeshot should consider going online.

It is hard to not interpret these discussions as either an attempt to silence independent student voices, or an unawareness of the inherent social and cultural benefits that student media provides – especially on a campus without a student union.

There is a wealth of evidence available on the perceived benefits of print media, and subsequently student print media. A 2011 study by TRU, found that 82% of millennials identified paper sources as more trustworthy and that 88% of the focus group found printed sources more official.

The TRU study also identified a strong emotional attachment to paper books and cards, a sentiment which is not too surprising considering the concerns of our generation of e-waste and the popularity of “Zine Fairs” offering tangible art from local artists.

The 2018 Deloitte survey found that 91% of respondents multi-tasked while watching television, and it becomes clear that the sheer amount of content online makes it easy to do many things at once. This is something which has pushed many millennials to perform social media cleanses. It’s something that has driven our generation to physical copies of books and magazines in order to escape the technologically overloaded world we live within.

This sentiment is apparent when exploring the notion of a university campus as a microcosm for the outside world, everything that happens on any university campus inherently becomes a part of a unique political and social culture. Removing the physical manifestation of the media from this microcosm, directly impacts the engagement of the student population with student publications and student concerns.

Particularly when student magazines have gone exclusively online in the past, such as the University of Newcastle’s Opus magazine, they have returned to print once again.

As previous Editor in Chief Angus Dalton notes, “When we upped the print edition of Grapeshot, the whole community of readers and contributors grew too, because you’ve got more eyeballs on stunning covers and more hands flicking through the pages and passing issues between friends”.

Moreover, he believes that, “Print media is so important because of its unique ability to grow and maintain community. With Grapeshot, so many older people at uni and executive staff constantly commented that they thought the print edition should be cut because they thought print was dead and that young people only want to engage with online media. This is a hugely misguided assumption. Young people continue to engage enthusiastically with books and magazines, especially publications that are niche and community-based, like Grapeshot and the mag I’m helping put together now, Sweaty City…There’s something that will always be special about engaging with words and design on an real, physical page, which is why I think print media has such power to communicate ideas and bring people together.”

Dalton also noted the tactile nature of humans, we respond much more emotionally and creatively to things we can hold in our hands. Noting that he knows “so many current and ex-Macquarie students who have collections of Grapeshot lined up along their wall, or cut up and collaged into posters. That’s the enduring power of print media”. This is perhaps the most important part of print editions of student media, they provide time capsules of the student voices. The Grapeshot team has learnt so much from reading articles from the 90’s editorial teams, and there are even collections of Grapeshots within student accommodation passed down from student to student.

As we move into the future, the online element of the student publication world is necessary. With limited numbers of print magazines and 160,000 students interacting with our campus, there are inevitably going to be students who don’t care for student media or who will never really engage with Grapeshot Magazine in print form.

However, the solution is to simultaneously build upon our online platform in the ways that Pulp media of USYD or Woroni of ANU have. Or if we trust the words of Dalton, maybe we should even be increasing the print editions so more students can engage actively with student media. Both options are much more favorable than the pursuit of an online only Grapeshot Magazine, which would do nothing but actively silence one of Macquarie University’s last platforms for student activism.