Penn State University's President Promotes Newspapers to Students

By Hartman, John K. | Newspaper Research Journal, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Penn State University's President Promotes Newspapers to Students


Hartman, John K., Newspaper Research Journal


The president of a major university took action in early 1997 to promote newspaper reading among college students, a subset of the young adult population whose lack of interest in reading newspapers threatens the future of the industry. Graham B. Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University, commissioned an experiment in promoting newspaper reading in the spring semester, 1997, by having the New York Times and the Centre Daily Times, the local daily newspaper, delivered free Monday through Friday to all rooms in three co-educational residence halls occupied by 940 students at the University Park main campus. In the fall semester, 1997, the newspapers-in-dormitories program was widened to all main campus residence halls, which house 13,000 students, and 4,000 students who live in residence halls at eight of Penn State's branch campuses served by daily newspapers: Altoona, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, Reading, Hazelton and Waynesboro.

A third newspaper, USA Today, also a national newspaper, was made a part of the program on the nine campuses. All students were assessed a fee of $5 per semester as part of their room and board bill for the services and the three newspapers were made available for pickup throughout the building along with the Penn State University student newspaper, the Daily Collegian. Bill Asbury, vice president for student affairs, said that the papers were placed in convenient spots near dormitory elevators and in dormitory lobbies, noting that the Daily Collegian, which receives a $200,000 annual subsidy from the university, would benefit from improved distribution points.(1)

In justifying the innovation, President Spanier, who first publicly discussed the concept of widespread newspaper availability in dormitories in the winter of 1996, stated "It's clear through this experiment that newspaper readership can have a positive impact on the lives of our students." He added that the students' use of newspapers will be monitored and adjusted according to the students' preferences. "We are prepared to make as many newspapers available as students want."

Spanier claimed that Penn State was the first major university to begin this type of program. "It is critical that college students have an understanding of the world, both local and international, where they will soon go out to live, have jobs and raise families. Reading a daily newspaper is a perfect way to gain a better understanding of that world." Spanier noted that he backed the program for competitive reasons because his university strives for excellence in competition with other institutions of higher education because he believes it will "improve the quality of the undergraduate experience" at Penn State.(2)

Studies show college students avoid newspapers

Thirty years ago 60 percent of young adults (18-to-29-year-olds) read a daily newspaper every day; now that figure has dropped to 25 percent or below.(3) The No. 1 problem in the daily newspaper industry is the continued hemorrhage of young-adult readers. One newspaper that has resisted that tide is USA Today, the national newspaper founded in 1982. The average age of its six to seven million daily readers is about 40 years while the typical daily newspaper's reader is more likely to average 50 years. USA Today has been described as the daily newspaper best able to relate to young adults.(4)

The indication that newspapers were losing their young adult readers began appearing in newspaper-industry publications more than two decades ago. Ernest Larkin, Gerald Grotta and Philip Stout reported that newspapers were having trouble appealing to young adults.(5) The study stated that 21-to-34-year-olds were not nearly as interested in reading newspapers as their parents(5) The newspaper industry did not like this rebuke of its supremacy over all age brackets. Seventeen months later John P. Robinson reported that more young people read newspapers than watched television news. …

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