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Campus newspaper ends print edition

Southern Oregon University's student-run newspaper has become an online-only news source as the publication deals with budget issues and a student body that is becoming ever more reliant on electronic devices.

Monday's edition of The Siskiyou was the last paper version of the award-winning weekly newspaper for this academic year.

The SOU newspaper has been in print for more than 40 years.

The students who create The Siskiyou made the decision to be online-only in part to save $12,000 in annual printing costs, said student Nia Towne, editor in chief and commentary editor.

The newspaper is supported by student fees and advertising revenue, she said.

There are also environmental advantages to forgoing the paper version, she said.

Towne, who is a senior this year, said the switch to an online-only format is not necessarily permanent.

"The students who are editors next year may decide to bring back the print edition," she said.

The Siskiyou's student staff have been debating the idea of the online-only switch for a few years, Towne said.

"No one is 100 percent against it, but I don't think anyone is 100 percent for it, either. We're print journalists. But our readers are college students attached to their smartphones," she said.

The Siskiyou has had a website edition for a few years in addition to its print version.

SOU senior Lenny Holland, associate editor and entertainment editor, said it was difficult to have enough money and manpower to maintain high standards for the print and Web versions.

He said it wasn't easy to make the choice to become online-only.

"I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. I love the printed edition. I love the tactile feeling. I like that you can take it around without having to have a device to read it," Holland said.

He said the newspaper's staff members are expecting backlash at first from some students who may miss the print edition, but they have plans to make the website more interactive and useful for readers.

Students can answer polls, submit letters to the editor, take part in forums and post comments on the website. Eventually they will be able to post photos as well, Holland and Towne said.

"The whole campus can contribute," Towne said.

Rather than working on Saturday and Sunday to set up the Monday print edition, students will spread their workload out over the week, Towne said.

"Our goal is to update the website daily and publish stories as they happen. We want it to be a live news site," she said.

Students who send in news tips to the editors could see a faster turnaround on stories.

Towne pointed to an episode on Nov. 10 when a small band of preachers came to a campus courtyard and began denouncing homosexuality and activities they believe are sinful. Some students held up signs and argued with the preachers, while others stood back and observed.

"The preachers came and it caused a stir," Towne said. "Students were texting editors and saying, 'You need to get out here.'"

As Towne and Holland contemplate graduating from SOU, they said the university's communications department has done a good job of preparing students for the challenging journalism industry by teaching them diverse skills such as videography, photography and website management.

"There are fewer opportunities for print journalism, but there are 10 times more opportunities than we could have anticipated with online journalism," said Towne, pointing to the proliferation of small online publications, blogs and other Internet formats. "We need to be Renaissance journalists who can take photos, post things online and write for an online readership."

The Siskiyou's switch to an online-only format mirrors a trend in the larger journalism world in which some newspapers, such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, have abandoned their print editions.

SOU journalism majors are also getting a firsthand look at another trend — hyperlocal news sources.

Under the hyperlocal model, journalists hone in on areas as small as neighborhoods, writing up stories that capture the news and flavor of an area and then immediately post the material online.

Terrie Martin, who teaches feature writing and reporting at SOU, said The Siskiyou's switch to an online-only format will help students learn about hyperlocal journalism.

It will also help them connect with and engage a younger generation that gets its news via laptop, iPad and iPhone, she said.

"I'm really excited about it. Newspapers are still trying to think like newspapers, where there is a publication moment every 24 hours," Martin said. "The Internet will change our whole way of thinking and how we read newspapers — if we can call them newspapers."

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-479-8199 or by email at vlaldous@yahoo.com.