The Orion joins exodus from print to online



An old Orion newspaper stand. Photo by Devonte Barr.

Chico State student journalists have returned to the newsroom in Plumas Hall for the first time in 

a year and a half. The Orion shifted to a digital only platform in Spring 2020 after 45 years of print. It’s a trend that’s happening at universities across the nation. 

Pate McMichael, the adviser of The Orion, estimates that roughly $40,000 per year will be saved on printing and delivery. That money has been coming from Instructionally Related Activities, a program at the university that supports, “activities and laboratory experiences that are partially sponsored by an academic discipline or department and which are, in the judgment of the President, integrally related to the function of instructional offerings.”

The pandemic led to the immediate decision to eliminate printing, but another factor, declining advertising revenue, also influenced this decision. The newspaper previously sold about $200,000 per year in ads, but before COVID-19, ad revenue plunged to less than $10,000 per semester.

Print circulation had also declined from 10,000 copies per issue to 1,000. “We ended up recycling about half or more because they were not picked up by readers,” McMichael said.

The Orion’s frontpage of the March 11, 2020 edition.

Penelope Muse Abernathy, University of North Carolina’s Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics and author of “News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers: Will Local News Survive? Has found that the “newspaper death rate” has risen to 30 a month since 2019.

Abernathy shows how in 2020, the number of U.S. newspapers was 6,736, which is a 2,155 loss compared to 2004 when the number of U.S. newspapers was 8,891. 

Producing newspapers is economically unsustainable, so cutting print for some colleges was inevitable but the pandemic sped that process up. 

In an interview with Harvard’s Nieman Lab, University Daily Kansan General Manager and News Adviser Rob Karwath said, “The pandemic has kind of pushed us in directions that we needed to go anyway … a direction we needed to go probably more so starting five, 10 years ago.”

Mario Ortiz can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @realnameismario