"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Does UMM need The Register anymore?

The University Register newspaper is available at City Center Mall on Morris' main street. It's the student newspaper of the U of M-Morris campus. It's free.
I often grab a copy if I see a new issue is out. Most often it isn't worth the trouble to bring it home.
By far the most effective news source for the U of M-Morris is the official UMM website. That website has no "dead tree" (paper) counterpart. It sprouted and has grown and flourished online. I don't think anyone complains that there is no paper version.
Of course, if you want, you can use the "print" button on your computer and print off as many pages as you want, if that's what turns you on. But who needs that?
And for that matter, is there any real need for a "dead tree," ink-on-paper student newspaper?
We live in a new communications universe. The brilliant young minds of the University of Minnesota-Morris are certainly attuned to that.
The campus paper seems like a relic of a bygone time. When I was a kid it was called the Vanguard. It had another incarnation as the "C.C. Writer" (initials standing for campus and community).
The Register has been around for a while now.
We also had an oddball entry in the campus "dead tree" reading scene, called the Counterweight. It trumpeted conservative political views.
A retired UMM administrator told me that the Counterweight was sold to UMM on the basis of the Register being too left-leaning (politically). We were bemused by that. He also told me that "outside money" was involved.
What, from right wing political causes? I'm shocked.
I have actually viewed the University Register as being quite bland. I have never perceived it as pushing left wing thought, at least not to the extent it gets a reputation.
College youth are supposed to be a little receptive to left wing thought anyway. It's an idealistic phase in our lives. We're supposed to believe a little bit in the potential of government to help people and ameliorate the lot of the needy.
With time we learn life isn't that simple, but there's nothing wrong with going through that more idealistic phase.
The Counterweight took exception. Fine. There's room for all kinds of opinions. What we don't need anymore is for forests to be chopped down for these publications to be bundled and physically distributed.
UMM's own website sees no need for a paper component (unless you just want to press that "print" button). So why should anyone else?
It's tradition, I suppose. We assume that a college campus should have its "newspaper." As with all legacy things, it's tough from an emotional standpoint to yank it.
Except that I really don't think it would be tough.
UMM students, of all people, are ready to establish their communications orbit within the electronic media. The campus paper seems like just a curiosity. Whatever positive things it offers could be gleaned online.
And it can do negative things. This is what I noticed when I picked up the December 2 issue.
"Wow," I thought, as I read the headline "MCSA votes down the 'Green Dorm.' "
MCSA is student government. The headline was too hard-edged. Student government does not have the power to nix the Green Dorm which is a high-priority building proposal by UMM's administration.
The article reported that "the administration wishes to bring a strong presentation of the plan for approval by senior University officials and the Board of Regents."
I hope none of those suits ever came across the December 2 edition.
The headline put a cloud over the Green Dorm for reasons that still aren't clear to me. The article could have elucidated. It didn't.
Oh, but it did advise readers to check the MCSA website the next week. There we could read the meeting's minutes (after they were approved) and learn the identities of the persons voting "yes" and "no."
It was a 9-9-3 vote (on proposed endorsement) and thus failed.
So there you have it: a dead tree publication steering people to the Internet where they could get all the blanks filled in. So why couldn't the Internet be the vehicle for the whole process? No need for a blunt, almost misleading, headline in a physical product that is placed in stacks around the community.
No opportunity to revise, correct, clarify or soften. It's permanent.
Which in the old days was the way it had to be. Newspapers were the Fourth Estate. Woodward and Bernstein saved the Republic (well, not really).
Newspapers were bastions of honesty and virtue, except of course that they're owned by people who have an agenda just like we all have an agenda. And it's not necessarily synonymous with virtue.
Today, the desperation of many newspapers just to survive probably clouds their judgment on a lot of things. So don't give me the virtue argument.
Woodward and Bernstein and their adventure were an aberration anyway. You don't cover the local sewer commission meeting by thinking you're like Woodward and Bernstein, or Hunter Thompson.
The press in its printed form had its heyday but we're moving on.
Online journalism is a rigorous meritocracy. The wheat gets separated from the chaff. People want helpful information and they'll find it where it exists. We're not left to shake our head at a foggy article on an MCSA meeting.
We can demand more and we'll get it.
When all else fails, read the official meeting minutes. This applies to all levels of government. The City of Chattanooga (Tennessee) has recently tried to get its legal notices posted online only, relieving them of the cost of dealing with a newspaper.
There has been talk about this option all over the USA. Often there is foot-dragging with fundamental change like this. We should have had smoking banned from restaurants ten years earlier. Someday legal notices will be online only and it will seem like the most natural thing in the world.
If UMM were to cease having a dead tree campus newspaper, I think the whole place would take it in stride. Let a few copies be preserved in a museum.
I saw an old Vanguard taped to a window there once, and there was a photo of a female student who looked like she stepped out of an Austin Powers movie!
Update: We learn in the December 9 University Register that the MCSA reversed course and endorsed the Green Dorm. But in neither article do we learn much about why the student representatives voted the way they did.
There were arguments about process and communications. But there had to be more to it than that, right?
Certainly the merits of the proposal had to weigh in. I'd be very curious to read about that. The paper gave no such satisfaction.
I stated in an email to a UMM administrator that this whole tussle over the endorsement of the Green Dorm came off like "a parody on student government."
Was that an accurate or fair view? I don't know. Maybe I could learn more online.
I'm glad the Counterweight is now dead.
Maybe the Register ought to meet the same fate.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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