Students at Doane College in Crete, Neb., come from their classes and dorms, pick up their lunches and proceed to step back in time.
The millennials seek out an honest-to-goodness, dead-tree, processed-pulp newspaper, handed out by the paper’s staff, to catch the midday dining rush.
“It’s strange. These kids are walking around with iPhones and iPads, and they are looking for the college paper,” said David Swartzlander, newspaper adviser to the Doane Owl and president of the College Media Advisers, a national organization supporting college news publications.
The Owl is not unique.
For students raised on iPads, Kindles and Twitter, college newspapers are proving surprisingly durable, even as their real-world cousins face intense market pressures to consolidate or close. But, with education budgets tightening, too, many venerable college papers are discovering that they are not immune to the forces affecting the industry, and some have decamped entirely to the Web.
Advertisers, recognizing the niche market of coffee-guzzling, 20-something consumers, are still willing to pay good money to advertise in college papers. Although the lure of the Web has been felt among the campus media, the school newspaper appears to be holding its own.
“For the most part, print still rules on college campuses,” Mr. Swartzlander said.
Even with all the online alternatives out there, “Having a print paper on campus is very important,” said Lindsey Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Eagle at American University.
But there are clouds on the horizon.
College papers at schools as diverse as Bowdoin College in Maine, the University of Connecticut and the University of Texas face a battle for shrinking student activity dollars in an age of reduced state funding. Students at the University of Nebraska-Omaha this week voted to retain funding for the twice-weekly Gateway after the staff warned that a cut could mean the death of the 99-year-old paper edition.
Logan Aimone, director of the National Scholastic Press Association, said college media are “serving, really, a different type of reader,” a readership with common issues of intense interest inside the community - and little appeal beyond the ivory-covered walls.
When a campus newspaper covers the issues of that community, “it stands to reason that they will have a high readership in general,” Mr. Aimone said.
This combination attracts marketers such as Re:fuel, which targets niche audiences such as college students and members of the military.
About 60 percent of all college students have read their college newspaper, said Tammy Nelson, vice president of marketing and research for Re:fuel. There are about 1,800 college papers at the 4,400 higher-education institutions.