If you’ve ever been in the 301 Flowers office, you’ve probably stared at the iconic print paper editions hanging on the walls. The “Five Golden Rings” headline with a gleaming Coach K. Front pages that document Steve Schewel becoming mayor of Durham. A tribute to Matt Sclafani, our late 1990-91 editor-in-chief. Our papers have documented bits and pieces of Duke history, from devastating basketball losses to really creepy paintings in dorms.
But apart from a few special editions this year, The Chronicle will not be producing a regular print product.
The move to becoming a digital news source has been in the works since 2013, when we first cut down our print issues from five days a week. Soon, we hit three days, then two, and last year, we stayed up until ungodly hours only one night a week. Despite the gradual movement, this decision was not made lightly. I spent hours on Zoom with other editors, Chronicle alumni and my staff understanding the ins and outs of what it means to move on from a regular print paper.
At the end of the day, I’m happy to say that this move is not a reflection of financial struggle. Thanks to the tireless devotion of our business office, board and General Manager Chrissy Beck, The Chronicle performed exceptionally well, especially given the pandemic circumstances. I write this bittersweetly in reflecting on the end of an era but confidently in thinking about where The Chronicle will go from here.
We have a tradition where we sign doors in our office when we’re there until ridiculously late hours. It was difficult this year to hazily scribble our names time after time, only to not see our hard work being picked up off the racks. Our student journalists are tireless and bring a renewed sense of energy and creativity to our paper that impresses me every day. It’s time to start putting that all towards something our readers will appreciate just as much as we do. Surveys and a quick look at the print racks show that readers just aren’t as invested in a print product as they used to be.
But our decision to move on from regular print is also fueled by momentum. As of recently, our digital presence is what has captivated our readers and really helped us to broaden our audience. When we were suddenly scattered across the globe, we were forced to rely on social media and online outreach to make sure students and parents could follow our content as we documented a chaotic time in University history. Since then, our ability to apply ourselves digitally has only gotten stronger—and it’s time for us to not look back.
Our staff supports this decision. It will give us all more time to report, edit and have our work seen by as many people as possible. It will help us to break news and get it out to students five feet away from us on campus and alumni across the globe. It will also help give our reporters the skills they need for future careers, whether it’s perfecting the art of highlighting stories on social media or maximizing engagement with our newsletters.
We’re beyond prepared. I’ve been meeting with two digital strategy directors, Maria Morrison and Simran Prakash, to figure out our goals for this year and get working on initiatives that were put on hold during the pandemic. We’ve started sending out texts for breaking news alerts. We started more newsletters tailored for specific audiences and will add even more this year. We’ve been engaging with our audience more, from surveys to special photo projects. We’re excited to start new podcasts. And there’s only more to come.
Remember, though, that there will still be special print editions this year. For current students and parents, the send-home edition will be in your mailbox in just a couple weeks. For the Class of 2022, you’ll still get a commencement edition that celebrates your four years at Duke. When you come back to school in August, there will be a back-to-school edition hot off the press on the racks. When it’s time to return to Cameron Indoor, you better believe there will be a paper plastered in the better shade of blue. Just to name a few.
Of course, I’m going to pull a quote from The Office. At Pam’s art show with her still life paintings, Michael told her: “...and without paper, it could not have happened, unless you had a camera.” Without a print paper, The Chronicle could not have happened. To our alumni who helped contribute to something so special, whether it was five nights a week or one, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you’ll be proud of where we’re going next.
As I mentioned, writing this editor’s note is bittersweet. I spent my last few nights in the office looking at the “Five Golden Rings” paper and feeling disappointed that I may never be able to produce something so timely and powerful. I worked the Sunday night print shift last fall, where we drank coffee, played ping pong rallies and made fun of Matthew until the paper was ready to be edited and sent to the press. Now, our first shift of the week will be just an ordinary Sunday.
But we now have the power to reach audiences beyond what we could have imagined 10 years ago. To make our content more accessible and available. To revitalize our website. To get to know our readers better than ever and make The Chronicle a one-of-a-kind news experience for everyone. To be anything but ordinary.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle’s 117th volume.