UVA’s Cavalier Daily is an unusual specimen in the world of campus newspapers. Founded in 1890, it is financially and editorially independent from the University. Students sell the ads to generate an annual budget of a few hundred thousand dollars, which pays for a print circulation of about 10,000. Students write the copy. Students edit and produce each page.
And last year, it was the students on the paper’s managing board who faced a dilemma news outlets all over the country are grappling with: How to justify daily print publication and monetize online content in a world where Internet readership is growing and ad revenues are shrinking.
Their decision to cut back to two weekly print editions and push daily content on the Web was fully realized last week. On Tuesday, as newly returned students crowded the floors above their basement office in Newcomb Hall, Editor-in-Chief Kaz Komolafe and Executive Editor Charlie Tyson took a break from prepping for their first meeting as a digital-first team to explain that the transformation, which is expected to save them about $40,000 per year, was tricky for a news outlet with a staff of 150 and leadership that’s always in flux.
“It’s rare for people to be around for more than a year,” Komolafe said, which made it easy to put off big decisions. “It keeps it exciting and dynamic, but it does mean there’s been a tendency to say, ‘Oh no, it’s fine for this year.’”
The shift to a Web-first approach started a year ago, when the previous managing board renegotiated the paper’s print contract and launched a revamped website.
By the end of last semester, the staff was posting stories online throughout the day instead of waiting until the evening to make final edits and throw everything on the Web at once. Last week saw change to two newsmagazine-style print editions issued Monday and Thursday, each anchored by an in-depth front-page feature story.
There are still kinks to work out, Komolafe said, and however exhausting the daily editorial grind was, it was hard not to feel emotional about abandoning it. But she and the rest of her team think the new model is a better fit for a college audience. It’s also come with good side effects.
Content decisions that were largely made by a small group of editors in the past are now the subject of regular staff meetings.
“It was pretty top-down,” Tyson agreed. But no longer. “We thought it was important to maintain a sense of cohesion and unity among the staff when we moved to online, because we didn’t want to run the risk of everyone going off and working on their laptops,” he said. Now there are twice-weekly meetings that give everybody a chance to weigh in—and bond.
The culture shift is going to be important to the Cav Daily’s future, because four of the five managing board members who implemented the changes are graduating next spring. They have two semesters to cement the paper’s new identity and hand over the 123-year-old reins.
“This is definitely a decision and a process that the younger staff are going to have to own going forward,” Komolafe said.