Southern Oregon University is dropping its student newspaper after 90 years for what would appear to be a logical reason: Few students are interested in studying journalism any longer. But ending the now online-only publication just as it is seeing record readership is short-sighted.
The Siskiyou, which dropped its print edition in 2012, is produced by a credited class that attracted only eight students this term. University officials have decided to discontinue the course at the end of spring term for lack of interest.
SOU bears some of the blame for that decline. The communications department stopped emphasizing journalism in 2014, choosing instead to offer areas of emphasis in communication studies, digital cinema, and social media and public engagement.
Granted, the newspaper industry is not what it once was. Students can hardly be blamed for looking toward more promising career paths. But as newspapers have slowly declined in readership, online voices have proliferated, and jobs are there for those with the right skills.
The university's mistake is in supposing that a field of study called "social media and public engagement" need not include journalism.
Anyone who has spent any time on social media and observed the public engagement that takes place there knows there is a crying need for solid, well-researched reporting on the issues of the day so that at least members of the public may engage with each other armed with a common set of facts.
The ability to gather information, make sense of it and communicate it clearly to readers, watchers and listeners is more important than ever. And one of the best ways to learn that skill is to practice doing it while providing a vital service. That's what newspapers, both in print and online, do.
Nearly 15,000 people read articles in The Siskiyou online in February, compared with 1,507 in the same month five years ago. The publication clearly fills a need for information on campus and in the wider community.
If SOU intends to turn out communication graduates who know how to communicate, a solid grounding in journalism is not only advisable, it should be required.