In what is becoming an all too familiar situation for student-run newspapers across the country, The Rocket has been going through some very big changes in recent years. Whether you have seen these changes or not, The Rocket has been fighting to survive. We are not in a unique situation, however, and student journalists all over America have come together to try and save student newsrooms. We ran the first editorial from the University of Florida’s The Alligator in the 4/20/18 edition of The Rocket last week that outlined the purpose of the movement and why student newsrooms are important. You can read that editorial here. In celebration of the unofficial Support Student Journalists day, here is The Rocket’s story over the last few years and why we think student journalism is important enough to save.
Two years ago The Rocket printed one 16 page newspaper every week for the entire academic year. That’s 30 issues a year, 15 each semester. We also circulated 3,000 copies of each paper all across SRU’s campus and the town. That’s a total of 1,440,000 pages of news distributed by The Rocket each year, 48,000 pages each week. They only week we took off was Spring Break. For the 2016-17 year, we made the difficult decision to slash our number of print issues by more than half. In 2016-17 and now in 2017-18 we only print 10 16 page issues for the whole year, five each semester. We also cut our circulation down to 2,000 copies. That’s a total of 320,000 pages for the year, 20,000 every month.
This decision was completely financially driven. The Rocket simply was not able to make enough money in advertisements sales to make up for what we were spending to print every week. We decided the best option was to cut The Rocket’s print, but not entirely. The Rocket has been printing since 1934 and we did not want to be the staff that got rid of that.
Even if we weren’t printing every week we knew we still needed to produce content on a weekly basis. With only 10 print issues we started focusing more on our online presence both on theonlinerocket.com and on social media. The vast majority of our stories became online exclusives, with every story being posted on our Twitter and Facebook accounts.
With only 10 issues in 2016-17, we were spending a lot less money, but also making a lot less on ads. It worked out well for the most part, we did not lose nearly as much money for the year as we had been. Our online presence was also very strong, with fairly good reach and engagement on most of our stories on social media.
Despite the improved financial numbers, The Rocket still lost money and it is almost inevitable that in five to 10 years The Rocket will have to cease printing altogether. In preparation for this, the Communication Department at SRU, which houses The Rocket, made the decision that The Rocket and SRU’s student television station, WSRU-TV, should converge into one media organization in the coming years.
Despite these challenges and setbacks, this year The Rocket staff has still been able to produce multiple articles every week, covering almost every single SRU sporting event, covering the presidential search from start to finish all while winning at least nine national awards. Each member of The Rocket staff often works five or more days a week, putting in long hours for very little pay just so they have the chance to participate in something they are passionate about.
The Rocket is not the most popular organization on campus. We do not host fun events or bring famous people to campus to speak, but we feel that we provide a service that is invaluable. We strive to cover all SRU news that is relevant to students. Every week we plant content that will inform students of what is going on, showcase some of the amazing things that student are doing or just that we think students will find interesting. Even with sporadic printing, the only week we take off is Spring Break, every other week you can expect to see content from The Rocket. Whether it be news, sports or campus life stories, videos or photo slideshows, we are always working to provide the students of SRU with content they will enjoy and information they might need. If student media was not around to do that, who else would?
There are generally very few opportunities in the field of communication for students to do independent study or apply for grants to facilitate research. Communication students need to be able to produce content in order to improve or showcase their skills for employers. Organizations like The Rocket, WSRU-TV, Rock PRoductions and WSRU-FM provide students with these opportunities, but their existence is not assured. Student media needs the support of students in order to remain viable. Every story The Rocket published could be the best story in the world, but if no one read them what would be the point? The Rocket staff tries our best to provide breaking university news, relevant information to students and topical commentary on pressing campus issues all we ask is that you read some of what we write.
The best way to #SaveStudentNewsrooms is simply to support your university’s student media, because if students don’t support student media, then who will?