This is a big night on the Georgetown campus. Elections for the student government association will take place in one week, and many voters remain undecided. Tomorrow morning, 6,500 copies of the Hoya will sit in campus newsstands bearing Byrne’s article above the fold on the front page.
Byrne, cub reporter, has been working at the newspaper only five months. This isn’t even her beat. But she’s not about to let a little seat-of-the-pants journalism throw her.
Byrne’s title is “news assistant and staff writer,” but that seems to translate as pinch hitter. Fortunately, she’s a quick study. An A student in her Florida high school who was accepted to Harvard, Byrne opted to go to Georgetown and by October had bylined her first article. Tonight, she scans the scene, intent on the action.
There are four young men running for president of the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA), all juniors. They sit at a table in a wing of the student lounge wearing suits and ties and fielding questions. There is an inside-the-Beltway/outside-the-Beltway theme here, with candidates Ace Factor and Jed Feiman playing up the fact that they are “GUSA outsiders” and Charlie Joyce and Mike Meaney highlighting their experience in school government. The candidates keep returning to the issue of “transparency,” each arguing that as an insider/outsider, he is best poised to hold the university’s feet to the fire when it comes to sharing information with the student body.
The issue is vital to the Hoya. As owner of the newspaper, the administration directly affects the staff’s coverage and — unlike the professional media reporting on, say, Congress — its budget, too. The possibility of becoming financially and editorially independent is ever simmering on a front burner for Hoya staffers. Indeed, as Hoya Editor in Chief Eamon O’Connor stands in the back watching the debates, he knows that the Hoya’s board will meet within the week to discuss whether it will try again to break free of the university.
But this is all deep background to Byrne, who is focused on how she is going to get her article written before her deadline in an hour. As soon as the debate is over, she hustles upstairs to the Hoya’s offices.
The students who are putting out the Hoya this night are, in many ways, very much like the preternaturally hardworking, hands-on college journalists of a generation ago. But unlike their counterparts of yore, the Hoya staffers are part of a highly tech-savvy breed that is easily adapting to the seismic shifts that are convulsing the professional newspaper industry.
The Hoya is a microcosm of campus journalism nationally in other ways, too. Like most student newspapers, it has not seen the same drop in readership experienced by most professional papers. Indeed, although hard data are scanty, a national survey of 600 students conducted between Jan. 31 and Feb. 11 by Alloy Media and Marketing and research firm Hall & Partners found that a full 85 percent of students had read the print edition of their campus paper in the past month. Seventy-two percent had read the paper online.