After 106 years as a storied campus newspaper, The Gateway is gearing towards a new model, which will prioritize digital and online content.
The Gateway, which has filled University of Alberta newspaper racks since 1910, will be ceasing print publication as a weekly newspaper, and will shift towards a monthly features magazine. The content and stories that would have packed the print newspaper every Wednesday will now be optimized and prioritized for consistent, daily online consumption in the 2016–17 publishing year.
Cam Lewis, The Gateway’s Editor-in-Chief for the 2015–16 publishing year, said the move away from the newspaper product and adjustment towards an online product should be viewed as a triumph in the changing media landscape.
“I don’t view this as a failure,” Lewis said of the changes. “We can, and have the resources, to continue existing and printing the way we are right now. We’re not being forced, but we want to steer the path for everybody else.”
In the Fall 2015 term, The Gateway website generated an estimated 242,000 page views, up from 122,000 page views in Fall 2011. While online page views have spiked upwards, print newspaper pickup on campus has declined in recent years. In 2015, The Gateway saw an estimated average newspaper pickup of 2,500 per week, down from the 7,000 pickups per week in 2012.
Lewis, who has attended the U of A since Fall 2011, said he remembers being one the few people in his 40-student English lectures with a laptop. Now, seemingly everyone has a laptop in their bag or smartphone in their pocket, Lewis said.
“Today, it’s a completely different climate,” Lewis said. “There’s an obvious reason why people don’t pick up a newspaper anymore. Someone’s Facebook or Twitter feed today is essentially what a newspaper used to be.”
Print advertising revenue for The Gateway has steadily decreased since 2011. In 2015, advertising revenue declined by 16 per cent. In 2014, ad revenue went down by 38 per cent. For 2016, The Gateway is projecting a 36 per cent decrease. These numbers mirror the diminishing print ad revenue of Canadian newspaper chain Postmedia, which was down 17 per cent in 2015.
The change has been discussed at The Gateway’s Board of Directors, the highest governing body in the organization, for years, Lewis said. The idea of switching to an online plan began as “taboo” and a “for a couple years down the road” plan. But this year, Lewis and The Gateway Executive Director Beth Mansell said they didn’t see the model as a fall-back net, but as an opportunity.
“We’re looking to diversify and adapt to the current student climate,” Mansell said. “I believe in the current landscape of media, more regular print products would be shifting to this model if they weren’t so reliant on their advertising revenue. You can’t monetize a print product the way you can monetize a website.”
The Gateway currently collects $3.39 from full- and part-time undergraduate students in the Fall and Winter term, and $0.43 from students in the Spring and Summer term. Because students fund the organization, Mansell said The Gateway owes it to the student body to be more responsible with their money, and to utilize it wisely.
“We still want to be a valuable organization on campus,” she said. “Other people don’t have the resources to cover the U of A, but we do. We want to keep students interested in campus politics.”
Lewis said that with the way media consumption is headed, as indicated by newspaper pickup and web traffic, to continue to use students’ money to produce a newsprint product would be a “waste of money and resources.”
“We can’t be throwing that money into what’s essentially a garbage bin with printing newspapers every week,” he said. “We’re going to give students the same amount and quality of content, but we’re going to allocate the money in a different, and more useful way.”
Mansell noted that the overheard costs of producing a newspaper, such as paying staff for print product layout, the cost of printing on paper and distribution costs, would be eliminated with the model switch.
Lewis said he believes other print newspaper media outlets have been holding onto an idea of familiarity, which could be holding them back from making vast changes to their organizational plans. For The Gateway, he said he hopes their new plan can become a trailblazer in a world where interest in newspapers is dwindling.
“This isn’t us failing, this is us trying to lead in a media revolution,” Lewis said. “We’re trying to be the change we think people want. We didn’t mess up.
“We wanted to do this, and we’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”
The longer, in-depth and well-designed features has a more “special” feeling to it than putting together a weekly newspaper, Lewis said.
In the 2016–17 publishing year, The Gateway editorial staff will exist as a print arm and online arm, which are both supervised by the Editor-in-Chief.
The Managing Editor will oversee the production and edit the monthly magazine, and will coordinate with a Design and Production Editor to lay it out.
The Online Editor will run the web desk and manage the website. The News Editor will operate much like it does now, by pitching news stories and reporting on relevant campus news. Instead of Arts, Sports and Opinion Editor, which are specific and specialized in each section, The Gateway’s staff will be comprised of three Contributing Editors. The three contributing, who are well-rounded and will be providing stories to the Arts, Sports and Opinion sections. Lewis and Mansell both said they believe training journalists to write for any section and climate should beef up their portfolios and resumes should they apply to work at a media organization after graduation, or if they apply to a Masters of Journalism program.
The Photo Editor will be in charge of assigning photographers to events and editing photos for the monthly magazine and website.
The Contributing Editors and Photo Editor will also be contributing to the monthly magazine in addition to the website.
The Gateway’s Executive Director will manage all business-related activities. The Outreach and Marketing Coordinator will be report to the Executive Director, and work to liaise, communicate and network with the U of A community, local Edmonton and The Gateway alumni. Also on the business arm is the webmaster, who will operate in an information and technology role.