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It’s (almost) time for the Messenger to abandon print

I’ve been instructed to write “about 300 words” to fill the extra space on this page. Doing so is routine Wednesday night procedure at the Manitou Messenger. At least two or three articles in each week’s paper are written by staff members desperate to fill their section. Every single pullout was once a story pitch that was never written. Most of our “ads” have never been paid for – they are just event flyers taking up space.

This isn’t anyone’s fault. A shrinking writing staff, busy schedules and a looming print deadline basically guarantees that section editors will spend more time each week worrying about filling page space than producing strong, quality journalism. They’re not lazy – the Messenger staff are some of the most hardworking people I know – but when it comes down to it, producing enough journalism is prioritized over producing good journalism.

In addition to reducing costs, increasing reach and bringing us into the digital age, taking the Messenger out of print would remove the emphasis on quantity over quality.

Over the past four years, the Messenger has improved tremendously in terms of quality work. We’ve turned out more hard-hitting news, breaking stories and investigative pieces than we have in quite some time (maybe ever, much to my ego’s delight). We’re doing better in our role as campus watchdog and we’re getting better at connecting with the community.

Oftentimes those stories get buried amongst stories like this one – space fillers – and our editors get so bogged down in the daily operations of producing a print product that they don’t have time to do great journalism. 25 percent of our time is spent tracking down stories and conducting interviews; the other 75 percent is spent editing, laying out pages, navigating broken computers and finding a printer that works. Our true purpose gets lost week to week. 

An online-only publication would remove the print deadline and all of the pullouts, space fillers and sham ads that require so much attention. It would free up more time for newspaper staff to spend reporting. 

Before the student senate wields this op-ed against next year’s Messenger executives, I strongly believe that the Messenger isn’t ready to move out of print yet. We’d shrivel up and die.

There are a number of changes that need to be made and practiced before the Messenger would survive without a print product. We would need to better promote our online presence to increase readership, learn to write for an online audience and develop a website that gives us the same creative freedom that print provides. 

When newspapers abandon their print product it’s almost certainly accompanied by reductions in staff. I have no intention of making cuts, so before transitioning online the Messenger would need to ensure that all of our current staff members’ roles could translate for web. 

An online-only publication would also require a serious production model overhaul and culture shift. We live and die by the Wednesday night print deadline, despite all of the other Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon deadlines along the way. Without the time crunch that Wednesday provides, it’s very possible that editors will procrastinate their stories (as demonstrated by literally everyone who has promised to produce a multimedia story this year) and we’ll begin to turn out stories at a glacial pace. Without an office culture that prioritizes self-management, we could just cease to turn out stories at all. 

I want follow leads for our sexual harassment investigation. I want to dig into the choir tour article we have headlining this week. I want to help junior staff navigate their first investigative story. But instead I’m filling space on A3. None of us want to be the Mess exec who killed print, but if we don’t we’ll sooner kill good journalism at St. Olaf.

Emma Whitford ’18 ( is from Middleton, Wis. She majors in political science. 

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