one man student newspaper from scratch
January 13, 2006 7:55 PM   Subscribe

So my (relatively) new campus has no good student newspapers. The student body has no voice, and very little community. I am thinking of founding a simple paper, printed on 11 X 17. I should mention that I have no experience in journalism layout and design and advertising and whatnot. So what resources, programs, links, suggestions, tips, etc. does the MeFi crew have?

I planned to do about everything myself: templates made in Photoshop and Illustrator, with a feature about the shitty food, with some photos, some news items, a police blotter, a comic or two, and some other stuff. I bet there are some aspects of this that I sam not looking at. Thanks!
posted by FearAndLoathingInLJ to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think this is a great idea.

First thing that popped into my head was trying to contact the local paper in your community for advice and possible helpful resources.

As for layout -- Newspaper Designer's Handbook is the gold standard.
posted by frogan at 8:01 PM on January 13, 2006

You do not use photoshop or illustrator templates for a newspaper. You use Indesign templates. Illustrator is a drawing application and Photoshop is for photographs. Type is very, very, very important; almost as important as content. Use good fonts. When I was in school I redesigned a student paper, although it was a much bigger ad-supported paper than yours, and this is 15 years ago so it was Pagemaker back then. You don't have to impress an editorial board, though, just get people to pick it up, which isn't that hard. Email me at hundertwasser -at- yahoo dot com and I can help you out.
posted by luriete at 8:02 PM on January 13, 2006

Any reason why you should spend money on paper and ink instead of doing it online? I am assuming that as college students, your target audience has Internet access.
posted by Airhen at 8:10 PM on January 13, 2006

No need to do it all alone! A one-person newspaper is just a zine, no? Besides, these things are always more fun with a tight, dedicated crew. Put up fliers around your schools graphic design/art/journalism/english/etc departments. Interested parties with the right experience and interests will make themselves known.

At my college, student groups just had to fill out an incorporation form and apply for a budget to get money to do stuff. My guess is that there are at least some monetary resources available from the school for this effort. Worth checking into.

Great idea and good luck!

On preview: Online might actually be a great idea.
posted by lalalana at 8:13 PM on January 13, 2006

Oh shit. Oh, man. You have a lot of work ahead of you. Background: I was the EIC, sole copyeditor, and general everything-doer of my high-school student-run paper for its three inaugural years, and now I'm a copyeditor for my college daily.

The program you probably want to use for this is Adobe PageMaker. There are alternatives (InDesign may be most popular), but PageMaker is what I recommend (especially since you're already familiar with other Adobe programs).

Layout/design: There are lots of books you can buy, but honestly, I got as much value from just keeping my eyes open. Disclaimer: I am not as much of a fan of whitespace as I should be. Also, I came to the table with a lot of knowledge about typography, and you may not be able to pick it up this way.

Printing/production: Get friendly with a Kinko's. If you're doing just a 11"x17", whether single- or double-sided, copying may be your best option. Once you go to multiple sheets, you have to find something more professional. Note that staples are a bad, bad thing.

Distribution: Going to be a huge, huge bitch. Okay, so you can leave a stack in the dining hall. That works until you get critical of the administration -- so they notice you, notice you aren't affiliated with anything, and tell staff to keep that damn crap out. What are you going to do then -- stand on the sidewalk and hand it out? That's problematic for a whole lot of reasons.

Writing and editing: This should be your primary focus, I think, although it probably won't be able to be. That's a big shame.

The main problem is that there will just be too much work for you to do by yourself, especially if you have any interest in going to classes or having a social life. "So what?" you say. "I'll just have it come out less frequently." This isn't a really good idea, because people won't be able to look for your new issue and will start forgetting your name/reputation in between. Also, if you take two weeks between the first two issues, then you'll let yourself take three weeks before the third, a month before the fourth . . . oh, and it's finals, so you go a couple of months without a problem . . . and all of a sudden you go "What happened to that paper I used to produce sophomore year?"

If I wanted to do this, I would take one of two routes:

1) Start online as a one-guy project. Do it just like you proposed, but online. Advertise it through posted flyers on campus or through the school's online bulletin boards, LJ communities, whatever. Enable commenting and splash your contact info all over the site. Hope people will volunteer to write, to edit, to take pictures -- whatever. If this is successful, after a year or two you can think about expanding it to print (in addition to online, maybe with some exclusive content either way). You'll start with a staff and a following. (On preview: Yeah.)

2) Go to your school -- president, club board, journalism department (whatever you have; I don't know how big your school is) -- and tell them you want to start a student-run newspaper. They'll give you money. They'll provide you with an advisor. They'll give you a legit link that will help to attract other editors/writers. They may very well help advertise it. If you want to look more legit, less underground, this is definitely the way to do it, and will probably look better to grad schools and employers.

If there's anything else you want to know about student journalism or getting a paper started, feel free to contact me (info in profile). I had a hell of a time getting mine up; I'm not sure I'd have the energy to do it again, ever, but it was a good experience.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:20 PM on January 13, 2006

I was the senior editor of my campus community newspaper. Because of alleged corruption in the student government and pilfering of the newspaper budget, we took the newspaper away from the student society and established a community newspaper society. I founded the society and had to establish the society. It was an enormous political battle. The college insisted that the student society manage dispursement of student fees for the paper. But the problem was that the student society would refuse to dispurse funds every time the paper said anything remotely critical. This became a huge problem because the paper was focused on exposing corruption in the student government. Certain members of the student government had embezzled funds. But the only way to get the word out was to cover it in the paper and the only way to get the paper out was to have funds. (In the end, this because a big deal. Even a major Canadian newspaper covered the controversy.)

Fortunately, the paper already existed, so it was more of an overhaul on the creative side, rather than starting from scratch. All in all, starting the paper was a huge amount of work and I loved it, except for the political/embezzlement stuff.

If you're starting a newspaper, I think your first question should be about money. Where are you going to get it? How will you fund the paper? How will you keep an independent voice and keep the money coming in? Money's going to run everything else. If you can figure out the money, everything else is easy.
posted by acoutu at 8:41 PM on January 13, 2006

What luriete said. You'll need layout software (I'd recommend InDesign over PageMaker), not photo-processing software.

I founded (with a friend, and another guy) and edited a small newspaper for nine months, and while it wasn't a college paper it was in a college town and most of the staff (as well as, probably, most of the readers) were students or recent graduates. A few things that come to mind:

Are you planning to pay for this out of pocket? If you can get money from the school to subsidize the paper, will that cover all expenses or will there be any left over? Figure out how much you can or are willing to spend per issue and figure out what combinations of print run, paper type, printing quality and style (color? grayscale?) you can afford. Then figure out which of these fits best with the type of publication you're envisioning. Is it worth cutting your page count to do four-color printing? For large print runs, newsprint will be cheaper than Kinko's.

You write that you're planning to do almost everything yourself — does this include the writing, i.e., is this more of a zine-style publication? Whether you have outside contributors or not, you'll find that even a fairly small publication (ours started at 12 tabloid pages, then went to 16 and then 20, and came out every two weeks) starts to look a whole fucking lot bigger when you've got to fill up the space. You cannot begin to imagine how much space 20 pages is until you've had to drive around town from party to party on a Friday night looking for the writer who turned in his cover story on a floppy disk you can't read, or who didn't turn it in at all, because you've got a three-page hole to fill and the file's got to be at the printers by 6 AM.

If you do have writers other than yourself, don't be afraid to refuse the ones who aren't any good, and definitely don't take for granted the ones who are. I'm assuming you will be paying either nothing or very little; very few people are sucker enough to work for nothing, and few of those have any modicum of talent; when you find someone who is and does, you're very lucky.

If you expect to cover or defray expenses with advertising sales, realize that advertising doesn't sell itself, and that it'll be difficult to find people who want to sell it for you. Lots of college kids want to be the next Hunter S. Thompson; far fewer think it's sexy to sell ads, especially since it involves actually driving around and talking to strangers.

Distribution, as booksandlibretti points out, is a real bitch; nobody wants to haul stacks of newspapers around, not even the kids who are willing to cold-call potential advertisers for you.

If your friends write for you, expect them to hate your guts and stop speaking to you for a week when you cut their favorite lines.

Do better fact-checking than we did; when your writer fucks up and makes a misstatement about a company, and you fuck up and don't catch it, and you get a call from an enraged business owner threatening a lawsuit, it sucks. It sucks even more when he fires your source (a starving student) and tells her she can have her job back if she steals all of your papers from their distribution points, and you have to call up this poor girl whose livelihood you've just destroyed and tell her she needs to stop stealing your papers or you'll have her arrested. Trust me on this one.

That having been said, it's a lot of fun and I'd recommend giving it a try. There's nothing like the rush you get from realizing that you're in a position to seriously piss off people who are older, richer, and more powerful than you.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:52 PM on January 13, 2006

I would also think hard about making this an online-only venture. Depending on the size of your campus, you'd need to print a fair number of copies per issue to have any visibility whatsoever (for a ~15,000 undergrad body, we put out 9,000 copies per issue, averaging 24-26 pages per issue, 40 issues a year). That much newsprint and that much ink is going to cost you a lot; our campus paper contract was somewhere in the area of $100,000. You can, obviously, get away with less; knock your paper down to 12 pages, for example, and you'll cut your costs—not quite by half, but by something close to that. But it's still an expensive proposition, and you'll be hard pressed to get more than a couple of thousand dollars out of your student government/university. (Note I've only dealt with Canadian universities; maybe local colleges are more forgiving with the purse strings.) Doing a web-based paper will be much cheaper, both in costs and in time (because without such a high overhead, you won't need to worry about securing advertising contracts).

If you can at all help it, don't do this alone. Get a couple of people to help you out with writing stories, copyediting, layout, etc. I hate to admit this, because I think it's a bad precedent to set in university, but volunteers will hand over their souls for some pizza and an idea they believe in. If you can create a tight-knit community at the paper itself and staff it with people who really believe in what you're trying to do, you'll find a lot of people coming to you because they want to be part of the "long nights, hard work and heavy drinking" experience. This sort of loyalty you can't buy, and it's the big thing top-notch journalists and editors remember when they reminisce about their school paper days.

Another reason why you want to bring other people in: your toughest hurdle will not be starting this newspaper—that's the second biggest hurdle—but keeping it going once you leave. As the brainchild of this experiment, you have a lot of emotional and possibly financial capital invested. But a lot of publications die once that head person leaves because no one's willing to keep the thing on life support. booksandlibretti also makes some very good points about the initial burst of energy followed by a trailing off of interest. Maybe you'll be the one to let your brainchild die. You're less likely to do so if you don't feel overwhelmed, and you're less likely to feel overwhelmed if you have other people helping you out.

As for the mechanics of putting out a paper (web or print), you'll definitely need a mandate (what does your newspaper report on and write about? what's your editorial mix?) as well as a business plan (to make sure you don't spend the university's grant money on hookers and booze). You'll need some computers and, yes, Quark or InDesign if you're doing print. I suggest InDesign; the entire Creative Suite costs about the same as Quark, InDesign is just as capable as Quark, and it's easier to produce PDFs from InDesign which will make your printer happy. If you decide to go with web, you could do what I did and hack together a custom content management system for your paper (which will inevitably degrade over the years because no one understands your code) or you can get your hands on a prebuilt CMS. There's at least one system out there designed for campus papers, but you probably have to pay for it and it's kind of ugly.

To elaborate on distribution, that really is the crappiest part of putting out a print newspaper, especially if you plan on putting out more than a couple of issues a year. There are several ways of solving this: you could pay a guy with a truck to do the deliveries, but it's hard to find out who'll do this for you and he/she may not be the most reliable person in the world. You could get a student with a car to do it, but a) they'd better have a really sturdy car, because newspaper stacks are really heavy, and b) you'll probably have to pay this person, because students generally don't like waking up early and driving around campus tossing papers around. You'll also need to work out an arrangement with the university to a) set up distribution points and b) make sure maintenance/physical plant people don't toss your papers after a day or two.

I could write more, but I'll stop here. I know a guy who managed to start a literary publication using his own sweat, tears and money, and it's still going today, so it's definitely possible. Chances are, if you pull it off, it'll be one of the cooler things you do in university. Good luck!
posted by chrominance at 8:52 PM on January 13, 2006

Sorry to derail:

Acoutu, did you go to UVic? It sounds like the Martlet about fifteen years ago. (I was on the UVSS BoD in 89-90, and quit because of obvious corruption on the part of the Executive; the Martlet funding fiasco happened a couple of years later, if I recall correctly).
posted by solid-one-love at 8:55 PM on January 13, 2006

One more thing: everything acoutu said. You'll have to think about student/university government issues at some point down the line, and you'd better have a plan to deal with static on their end beforehand. While our run-in with the student government didn't get any national press that I can remember, it was still the longest week of my life to date. If you can at all run the paper without government influence, I'd recommend it (though you may still want to have something like a community editorial board or board of directors so that the publication remains in touch with the student community).
posted by chrominance at 8:56 PM on January 13, 2006

Solid-One-Love...same time frame, same Island, different school. The Martlet stuff happened after CUP carried so much stuff about the school I was at. Not far from UVic, mind you.
posted by acoutu at 10:01 PM on January 13, 2006

All of the above is great advice.
My tiny little contribution here would be that you get yourself an AP Stylebook. You will find it invaluable.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:10 PM on January 13, 2006

Could I put in one more giant recommendation that you take the project online? Distribute postcards with your site address; make announcements in your classes. Free yourself and your fellow seekers of truth up to spend a lot more time/money/energy doing journalism and a lot less on the hassles of layout, production and distribution. If you're doing a good job, especially with a college audience, your voice will have every bit the influence online that it would in print. And you can free yourself from bullshit publication schedules and space requirements/constraints. Publish on a regular basis to develop a loyal readership, but that "regular basis" can mean daily or weekly, as your schedule permits. Online all the way.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 10:43 PM on January 13, 2006

I'd not do it myself, and apply for a grant from student services. Get yourself a faculty advisor too (someone cool). Find a cheapo local printer (the kind that does shopping circulars and stuff) and they'll help you get set up. Use InDesign or Quark and find some art majors (esp. photographers and illustrator) and journalism/english majors to help. Have a clear mission statement too--something about ensuring that all students will have a place and an voice or something.
posted by amberglow at 11:12 PM on January 13, 2006

Check out the Poynter Resource Center for useful tip sheets and many other helpful articles and links.
posted by JDC8 at 11:13 PM on January 13, 2006


-Use InDesign. I've used that and Quark, and it's amazing the difference good software can make.

-As IshmaelGraves noted, those 12 pages can look like a blizzard of blank white pages when you desperately need to fill them with content that you don't have. Post flyers and get even a few people to help you write/design/edit before starting publication.

-As Dr. Wu noted, an AP Stylebook is a must. Following AP style is invaluable if you want to look like you know what you're doing (which helps when trying to convince people to fund you/print you/let you distribute your paper around campus).

New stuff:

As far as financing this thing is concerned, you need to find some business majors who're willing to work out a business plan/advertising rates for your newspaper. There are always people looking for something to put on their resume—sell them on working for the business side of your paper by reminding them (subtly) how great of a resume booster helping found a new student group is. You also may want to get in touch with some student government representatives to figure out what hoops you have to jump through to get funding from that governing body or the university—and what the cost will be to your editorial independence if you choose to contract with either of those organizations.

As for printing, you should seek out small presses around your area—the student newspaper I edit is printed by one such press. Explain your situation to them and see if there are any deals they can offer. Even black and white on 11x17 newsprint looks more official than copies made at Kinko's—and the more official the paper looks, the less hassle you're likely to get.
posted by limeonaire at 1:10 AM on January 14, 2006

InDesign is lightyears ahead of Pagemaker in terms of functionality (and more importantly) ease-of-use. Either way, do not, under any circumstances, use Quark.

I also would suggest not going the online-route. A few reasons:
  • There is a far larger likelihood of actual readership if the paper is distributed around campus, rather than requiring students to browse to a website when they're sitting at the computer. When people are outside, or in a cafeteria, or basically anywhere where there's not a computer, they will frantically look around for something to tide their boredom. Not so when they're sitting down in front of a computer--they probably already have an idea of where they want to surf, and attention spans are a lot shorter for surfers than readers.
  • If your paper is even moderately successful, advertisers will take notice. Show a solid, reliable distribution and even the most amateurish of shops will have better luck drawing money from advertisers than the glitziest of web sites. Yes, it's harder, but the rewards will be greater, as will your potential to parlay this into a "real" job after you finish school.
  • Momentum: once you're up-and-running, a newspaper business will (in general) sustain itself purely on momentum, and not necessarily the strength of one personality. Hire competent people (but not too many) and instill a sense of professionalism in them, and you can leave in four years knowing it may still be around in another forty.
One final note: do not get help from the University. Once you suck from the tainted teet of EduCorp, you will lose your objectivity and independence. I used to write for the Daily Free Press, and one of the best things about being so loosely affiliated with the MotherShip University was that you could direct your incisive gaze inwards and write about the university's problems without fear of reprisals.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:20 AM on January 14, 2006

I ran the campus humor magazine at UNC for a while (3 issues a semester, 4,000 copies an issue); if you're trying to build a sense of community on campus, I'd really suggest considering doing that instead of a newspaper. You'll get the affection of your readers much more easily, and you'll probably have an easier time finding staff. And fortunately, you can still do some limited reporting in that format, as long as you try to keep it fun. In a very cynical way, you'll also probably find it easier to influence the campus culture and spark discussion on issues in that format than in a newspaper (my opinion). I'd also reccomend InDesign over anything else, if you can afford it. I've still got some old InDesign copies of issues that you're welcome to steal from. Let me know if you'd like a copy, or have any questions about publishing a campus magazine.
posted by gsteff at 8:26 AM on January 14, 2006

I'll just fifth (or whatever) not doing it alone.

As the sole designer for a start-up magazine, I've realized that the effort it takes to lay out an entire publication is vastly under-estimated by everyone involved, especially people with no design background. That is, if you actually want it to look good. And that's just laying out, not actually coming up with content.

Good writers are harder to find than you think. Lots of people will want to write, not many can consitently write WELL. Same goes for editors.

Advertisers tend to want to see something in print before they give you money.

And when you get your first printing estimate, shop it around to a few more printers. Someone else will be able to give you a better price.

These are just a couple of points off the top of my head. It's a huge undertaking, though. Not to dissuade you, but to prepare you.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 10:14 AM on January 14, 2006

Contact Canadian University press. (, I think.) They have all sorts of resources.
posted by docgonzo at 11:42 AM on January 14, 2006

You can't do this all yourself: you need a team.

You need:
  • A designer.
    You'll need someone who already knows that they need InDesign or Quark, knows what CMYK is, and what a separation is. If they've already printed stuff, all the better.

  • An editor
    Someone who can process the copy, write captions, pull quotes, check the spelling and grammar, check for legality and facts, and write a good headline.

  • A hustler
    You need someone to sell adverts, and handle distribution. These are your lifeblood. You need adverts to get money in, you need distribution to get the paper out. You want one of those people who knows everyone, who knows who can help distribute, who is looking to sell something and so on. They're also good at feeding you stories, btw.

    If you have those three, you have the machinery required to put out a newspaper. Then you can start thinking about writers and photographers, who are, well, ten a penny. Good ones are rare, but reasonable editing can make something worthwhile out of most dross.

    These are three separate jobs, by the way. You won't be able to do them all yourself. Especially not if you still want to go to class.

    I definitely wouldn't go online either: that's not a newspaper, it's a website. They do different things, and make different money.

    Finally, there is more to advertising than display. Start thinking about classifieds: you're talking about jobs, apartments, and stuff for sale. This is where a serious chunk of the cash flow of big papers comes from; worry about general advertising later on.

    Start putting up flyers: you want those three jobs filled, you want classified ads, and you want contributers. In that order.

  • posted by bonaldi at 6:23 PM on January 14, 2006

    Gotta go with gsteff - I also worked on my campus' humor newspaper/magazine and it was one of the best things I ever did for myself. Humor's a community-builder like nothing else, and you needn't address the paper to the leftists, the rightists, or anyone in particular; everyone loves funny stuff.

    One advantage: people don't expect much in the way of real journalism and are constantly surprised by the consistently excellent content (interviews, reviews, opinion pieces, theme issues, art/photos/layout, even recipes and DIY instructions) you do offer. Another advantage: artistic and creative freedom - if you've got a few friends who'd love to just contribute a few comics, or know someone who's got the worst job ever and wants to journal about it in each issue, you've got some material right there. Hell, throw in tips for how to strain cheap vodka with a Brita filter. And even if you start with just a few pages a few times a year, soon you'll be an institution like anything else.

    I have to say that we found humor in everything - humor when the police came to a protest and forcibly removed some people, humor when our chancellor was embroiled in a scandal, humor on student-led campus tours. You're sitting on a gold mine.

    Best of all, my university offered credit for being a member of the paper, calling it a "student-led field study" under the aegis of the community studies major or something, so there was an incentive to be creative and do well. I especially liked how I got the freedom to break out of writing just academic papers in college. One last note: talk to a lawyer about print law: what's libel, what can and can't you access as far as confidential documents go, etc.

    E-mail's in the profile if you've got more questions.
    posted by mdonley at 9:08 PM on January 14, 2006

    Get yourself a copy of Robin William's (NOT the comedian) "Non-Designer's Design Book, The, 2nd Edition" from Peachpit Press found here:

    This is what I considered my bible when learning basic design principles. Your publication will show remarkable professionalism if you can follow just a few basic design principles.
    Good luck!
    posted by UnclePlayground at 9:53 PM on January 15, 2006

    You need a stylebook. You (or your editor) need to know it by heart and still look everything up. A consistent style is one of the things that makes a paper look like a paper instead of a newsletter. The AP stylebook Dr. Wu mentioned will be a great start, but you will need to come up with standard terms for your school, sports teams, etc.

    A crossword or something like that (something students can do in boring lectures) will make your paper much more popular. The crossword puzzle and comics were most students' entry point to my school's paper. Several students will never read beyond this. This is OK; this is still circulation. Others will finish the puzzle and start reading the articles. See if you can find royalty-free puzzles or puzzle software.

    Photos get people too look at your paper and pick it up. "Feature photos" don't need to have anything to do with a story, if there's nothing especially visible about what you're covering. Just a slightly longer caption.

    Affiliation with your school as a student organization is a sort of mixed bag. You have to balance your need for certain rights (official status leads to greater access; possible funding) with that for freedoms (though if your funding isn't being supplied by the school, they have little control over you other than threatening to revoke your official status). School affiliation doesn't automatically mean that you're unable to criticize your university. My paper printed some pretty savage editorials about our chancellor and deans. It will depend on your university and on how afraid you are of losing the help they give you.

    You probably can't do this alone, go to school full-time, and stay sane.

    Talk to the journalism (or whatever the closest thing you have) professors at your school about addressing their classes. Try to get one of them to be a sort of mentor for you, preferably one with some actual newspaper experience. There's a small chance someone at your local paper might be willing to help you out too.

    Every school needs a paper. It helps to have community in writing.
    posted by fidelity at 6:58 AM on January 16, 2006

    The best advice I can offer you is to make it easy for students to get. Have it online, in PDF format, and right there on the front page have a big "Print It!" button so that with one-click they can take advantage of the 'unlimited' printing capabilities of the library/computer lab/etc.
    posted by ElfWord at 3:15 PM on January 24, 2006

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