UVA student publications grapple with the same print vs. online issues that preoccupy the rest of the newspaper industry. The Cavalier Daily and the Declaration, two of the more prominent student publications on Grounds, increasingly rely on the web to reach readers. Even so, neither has abandoned newsprint entirely.
The CD distributes its print edition on Mondays and Thursdays, the result of a two-step reduction over the past several years from five days a week. The publication carries the distinction of being Charlottesville’s oldest daily newspaper through its predecessor nameplate, College Topics, which traces to 1890, two years ahead of local metro the Daily Progress. Though the CD’s first online edition appeared in 1995, editor-in-chief Dani Bernstein says it has been within the current decade that the newspaper has achieved “true digital-first focus.”
You could describe its readers as digital-first too. The CD commands 18,700 Twitter followers, 6,000 Facebook likes and 4,000 email subscriptions. Its website attracts about 10,000 page views per day. Compare those numbers to the CD’s print circulation, which is 7,500 copies, less the significant portion that remain untouched in their news racks.
“So it’s pretty clear students are getting their information online,” Bernstein says. “The vast majority of students are getting it specifically through Facebook, where you have a lot more room to offer commentary on the article or issue you’re posting about.”
Which leads to the question at hand: With such a large online presence, why continue to print?
Bernstein offers a couple of reasons. The first is experiential: the desire and commitment to give a talented art and production staff the opportunity to create a printed newspaper. The second is more practical—and more typical of the newspaper industry in general. “From a financial perspective, the print paper is our main source of revenue,” Bernstein says.
Regardless of platform, the CD retains a position of influence on Grounds. “I feel pretty confident saying that students talk about what we’re writing about,” Bernstein says. “We are the only daily paper at UVA, so this is the major source of UVA news that students want.”
That’s not to say it’s the only source. Working on the same floor inside Newcomb Hall—across a wall, in fact—is the Declaration, an alternative-style publication with a penchant for satire. Editor-in-chief Melissa Angell describes it as a “mesh between the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, but UVA-centric.” Founded in 1973, it’s a much smaller enterprise than the CD. It has an editorial board of 10 to 15 students, plus another 10 to 15 regular contributors. That compares with a 250-member staff for the Cavalier Daily.
The Dec distributes 500 print copies across Grounds as part of its semi-monthly publication cycle. Like the Cavalier Daily, the Dec used to publish more frequently; it was weekly as recently as 2007–2008. And, also like the CD, it gets more readers online than in print. Angell says the most popular articles can get 2,000 to 3,000 page views, compared with 400 to 500 for more typical fare.
“Our readership online is usually a bigger audience, and online can expand outside the UVA community,” Angell says. Still, she’d like to find a way to return to a weekly cycle. Among other reasons, she says, “It’s nice to read your stuff in print and have a copy.”
For both the Cavalier Daily and the Declaration, part of the allure of print may come down to something distinctively UVA. Says CD news editor Hannah Hall, “I think there’s just a tradition [to print].”