2 student newspapers go toe-to-toe

03/01/2013 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 11:32 AM

A media war is brewing at UC Davis, but it doesn't involve blogs or Twitter.

It's a battle between two newspapers.

Last month, a group of students published the first issue of the Davis Beat, a biweekly tabloid that competes directly with the long-standing broadsheet student paper, the California Aggie.

"Competition between newspapers increases their quality," said Adrian Glass-Moore, editor-in-chief of the Davis Beat. "There's a pressure to be fast and to get it straight."

Reminiscent of a bygone era when cities had competing dailies, the move comes at a critical time for newspapers – an industry that continues to evolve as circulation drops, advertising falls and media are consumed online.

For college papers, the situation is even more precarious, since they target a demographic of 18-year-olds to 20-somethings who are more likely to read news on their iPads than to pick up a newspaper.

In its heyday, the 98-year-old Aggie published 12,000 copies a day, five days a week, and paid every staff member. But in recent years, as advertising revenue dried up, editors took pay cuts, reporters worked for free and circulation was cut by more than half. The paper lost $61,000 last year, according to its editors.

"We feared that the Aggie wouldn't be able to keep going for more than another year," Janelle Bitker, the paper's editor-in-chief, said in an interview. "This is a structural model that doesn't work."

On Thursday, Bitker announced in an open letter to the campus that the Aggie would start printing only one day a week instead of four, citing the organization's ongoing budget crisis.

"It's the same sad story that every print newspaper tells fewer and fewer people get their information from newspapers," Bitker wrote.

The Beat received $1,800 in startup funds from the university, which is enough to publish four issues. The staff doesn't get paid, nor does it get campus offices rent free like the Aggie. Eventually, the Beat will have to rely on advertising or move solely online once its seed money is gone. (Both papers are available for free.)

Beat editors say their paper gives students another voice on campus, and the biweekly schedule allows them to "tackle issues critically" with an eye for investigative journalism.

"The ability to choose where you get your news is essential," said Glass-Moore, who drew his inspiration from San Francisco, a city with a multitude of print media.

"Print is timeless," added Brenna Lyles, news editor at the Davis Beat. "There's just something attractive about it."

The Beat is available on campus news racks and from stacks outside lecture halls and dining areas. Its editors planned to meet with local business leaders Thursday to persuade them to buy print ads in what is already a tight market dominated by the Aggie and the general-circulation Davis Enterprise.

Marc Cooper, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California, called the situation of having two print papers "a sweet, generous episode that may or may not work."

"The digital side of any publication will be increasingly important, if it's not already dominant," Cooper said. (Both UC Davis student papers have websites: theaggie.org and davisbeat.org.)

Several college newspapers around California have resorted to supplementing their income with mandatory student fees. At Sacramento State, each of the 28,000 students contributes $6 a year to support the student paper, according to Alexandra Poggione, editor-in- chief of the State Hornet.

Already, the two Davis papers have been trying to scoop each other on campus stories.

"It's never good to have a monopoly news outlet," Cooper said. "Otherwise, you run the risk of falling asleep."

Said Glass-Moore: "If anything, the Beat will be good for stimulating the Aggie."

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