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Former Editor Talks Restructuring Plan

Matthew Cameron
Matthew Cameron

The Cavalier Daily recently announced a comprehensive plan to shift focus from the traditional daily newspaper to a digital-first newsroom. Starting in August 2013, the organization will replace its daily newspaper with a revamped biweekly newsmagazine and expand online and mobile content offerings.

For more insight into the forthcoming changes, the College Topics Blog recently spoke with Matthew Cameron, fourth-year student and previous Cavalier Daily editor-in-chief.

How long has The Cavalier Daily been considering the shift from traditional daily newspaper to a digital-first newsroom? What finally convinced its leadership to commit to the change, and how much of that decision was influenced by financial exigency?

The Cavalier Daily has been moving in the direction of digital-first for several years. The 122nd managing board laid the groundwork for the change when it decided to invest in a much-needed website redesign in late 2011. The 123rd managing board inherited this project and saw it through to its conclusion in September 2012 when the redesigned website was launched.

Our website traffic — both in terms of total visits and unique visitors — increased more than 30 percent in the two months following the launch, and our social media following grew fivefold during the 2012 calendar year. This strong growth in our digital reach, coupled with data about our print readership levels and long-term financial outlook, made it clear that moving to digital-first in August 2013 was the best approach for the organization.

What did you learn about The Cavalier Daily, its readers and its influence during the President Sullivan ouster and reinstatement last summer? How did that experience shape decisions that you and other leaders have made about the newspaper’s future?

Our coverage of the Sullivan ouster and reinstatement demonstrated to me and other leaders that becoming digital-first was a viable option for The Cavalier Daily. We don’t produce print newspapers during the summer, so the entirety of our reporting was published online through our website and social media accounts. Yet we were still able to produce award-winning coverage that was cited in outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. This indicated that our audience members were already going online for their news, and it proved that our staff had the drive to succeed at reporting important stories even without the deadlines and structure of print production.

How will The Cavalier Daily fund this restructuring plan and maintain its financial independence into the future? Are there potential avenues for revenue aside from advertising?

We expect the restructuring plan will save about $40,000 per year in printing and distribution costs, while having little impact on print advertising revenue. Most advertisers already run ads only once or twice per week, and relatively few ads are time-sensitive. That means we will be able to consolidate most of the ads that would have appeared throughout four editions into two editions. This is exactly what happened last spring when we stopped publishing print newspapers on Fridays — we shifted ads that would have run on Friday to Thursday, and thereby maintained our previous level of revenue while eliminating 20 percent of our printing and distribution costs. In fact, we expect our clients will find advertising in our new format more attractive because each edition of the twice-weekly newspaper will have a longer shelf life than the daily newspaper.

That being said, it’s necessary for The Cavalier Daily to diversify its revenue streams in order to become financially sustainable. There has been a long-term decline in print advertising, and that trend is expected to continue in the coming years. Therefore, Cavalier Daily leaders are working to monetize our digital products and raise money through donations and grants. We had some success with the latter two approaches during the 123rd term, as we solicited more than $5,000 in donations and won a $20,000 grant from the U.Va. Parents Committee for the purpose of a digital content expansion.

What affect will the restructuring have on student recruitment at The Cavalier Daily? As the newspaper embraces tools like social media, mobile applications and video do you expect more students to want to be a part of the staff?

During the 123rd term, we established both multimedia and social media sections at The Cavalier Daily for the first time in the organization’s history. This has led to about 10-15 people joining The Cavalier Daily for the purpose of working in those roles. We’ve also been successful at expanding our business staff in preparation for the major changes that will take place this year. In fact, the business staff has tripled in size and now has a contingent of members specifically dedicated to marketing the Cavalier Daily relaunch.

What has the reaction been to the announced changes around Grounds from students, faculty and staff? Do you think that they will all seek out The Cavalier Daily even though it will be available on newsstands less frequently?

Students, faculty, staff, and administrators have reacted very positively to the changes. We made a point of engaging with all of these groups prior to deciding to go digital-first, and in the process we were able to explain what the changes would mean and how they would improve our ability to fulfill our mission. Our community members were very supportive once they understood that going digital-first meant we could increase the speed of our content online and the depth of our content in print, as well as provide additional training opportunities to the staff.