There’s a great article up at the MediaShift blog about student newspapers and online publishing.

According to one recent study, more than a third of college papers are still print-only. The MediaShift post looks at why that is, what the barriers to publishing online are, and why it’s so important to make the effort.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts:

Make no mistake, college news is a messy business. Students are learning, and their mistakes all too often show up in print. An online presence will broadcast those mistakes to the world, so the theory goes. Also, a college that supports student press freedoms when distributed to 2,000 people on campus might not be so keen to distribute “bad news” about the campus when the whole world is watching.

[But] staying offline is a disservice to student journalists who cannot use the online tools now widespread in the industry. A student who can’t put material online can’t really understand the impact of social networks like Twitter or Facebook to spread news. They can’t really understand what it is to create a personal brand. And they can’t really understand the challenges of multimedia production.

A college that will not allow their student journalists to practice online journalism in a “real world” setting is abandoning its commitment to education in order to save face. And that is a tragedy not only for the college, but for the students who look to higher education to prepare them for the future.

Good stuff. And I’d add that a paper-only student newspaper is going to lose on-campus readership, particularly at a commuter campus, sequester itself from broader regional and national debates, and cut itself and its readership off from its own history.

Keeping a student paper offline isn’t just a disservice to the students who work on the paper, it’s a disservice to students who are doing organizing and activism on the campus as well.

Update: Butch Oxendine makes some excellent points in comments. An excerpt:

[Student newspapers] will maintain their relevance by specifically writing about campus-based issues, problems, and news that no one else is covering and reporting on. They will maintain their relevance by pulling the plug on the use of “wire” service reports from the Associated Press, etc.

Student newspapers must evolve. They’re not doing it well now. In tight economic times, more of them every year are being shut down. If they don’t have a web presence, they won’t be ready for this transition.