GUEST COLUMN: Future of journalism is digital

By Kelly Bauer

Editors note: Kelly Bauer was editor-in-chief at the Northern Star from 2012 to 2015. Currently, Bauer is breaking news editor at Block Club Chicago.

I’ve always loved having a newspaper in my hands: flipping the pages, scanning the headlines, having to wash the ink off your fingertips.

I grew up reading my dad’s copy of the Sun-Times or Tribune every day. I printed editions of my third-grade classroom’s paper from my mom’s computer, stapling the issues together. I spent long hours designing the pages of my high school paper. And even after long, long, long hours of writing, editing and laying out the Northern Star each night, I’d get excited to grab a print edition in the morning.

Ironically, though, my entire career has been spent at … online-only newsrooms.

And you know what I’ve learned? How we deliver news might be different, but it’s no less important.

At the beginning of my Northern Star days in 2011, our focus was largely on our daily print edition. The paper was beautiful, and it was exciting to see it get distributed all over campus and around DeKalb. I loved watching students read it in class. Having that print edition proved key at points, as people were able to remain informed when there was a class-canceling blizzard or when the power went out.

But the Star also began its transition into a more digital-focused outlet during my time there. When I was the editor in chief, we began cutting our print publication days. The decision was driven by a drop in print ad revenue, but it was also fueled by our excitement about what we could do online: publish breaking news stories, share interactive graphics, engage readers on social media.

It was hard to start shaving days off of our print schedule, as all of us had grown up like I did, washing ink off our fingers. But it was also exhilarating: The Star began to find a footing online. Our editors learned newsrooms could do just as much with a digital-focused publication as they could a print product.

We got to try out all those ideas about breaking news and social media, and we saw a lot of success — and, yes, a few flubs — with it. We learned so much and were still able to fulfill our mission of telling stories, keeping people informed and questioning the powers that be.

Now, this generation of Star leaders is making that transition in full.

It’s tough to say goodbye to print, but the Star has always been a place for young journalists to experiment and learn. This change is no different. I’m so excited to see what they do with a fully online newspaper and how they shake up journalism.

And something to keep in mind: The Star’s mission, and the mission of all journalism, remains unchanged.

When I was growing up, I always imagined my stories would appear in a print newspaper.

But nowadays, my readers find my news stories through social media, through our website, and through our newsletter. They read the news, good or bad, and often pass the story on to someone else, ensuring more people are kept informed. My digital-only newsroom’s stories have led to federal investigations, to laws changing, to powerful people being held to account. We’ve had serious reports, and lots of fun ones, too.

I say this not to brag, but to remind folks: Journalism may change, but our mission is the same.

The Star is going to keep being one of the best college newspapers out there. It’s just changing how it’s delivering the news.