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New rebranding program seeks to boost newspaper readership

BY LILY ABROMEIT | SEPTEMBER 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa Student Government, with the support of the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, is moving forward on one of its campaign promises — rebranding the Collegiate Readership Program.

The program, which has been available at the UI for 10 years, is a collective organization under the leadership of USA Today

The system allows UI students access to free hard copies of four newspapers.

Alongside USA Today, students can also acquire the New York Times, the Des Moines Register, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen in print at 25 locations on campus.

“We collaborate, but the overall management is done by USA Today,” said Paul Wilson, the education account manager for the Times.

To date, Wilson said, UI students’ lack of familiarity means that the program is underutilized.

“… I think [it] would be very useful in terms of classes, in terms of enrichment …” he said. “… It should be utilized as much as possible.”

Although the publications work together, the Times goes a step further, offering UI students free online access to the paper.

Each day, there are 400 online passes available to UI students through a simple log-on process using their university ID. Wilson said that about 30 to 40 passes are used, only 7.5 to 10 percent of the allotted number.

The online advantage has been available since last fall, but UISG President Katherine Valde said she thinks it has been underused and underrepresented.

“… It’s a service that you’ve paid for basically [through student activity fees],” she said. “No one used it last year on the campus because no one knew about it.”

UI School of Journalism lecturer Lisa Weaver also said that she was not aware of the available program until she spoke with Wilson this fall, looking for a way to allow her journalism students a reduced price to read the Times online.

Weaver, who requires her students in Introduction to Journalistic Reporting and Writing to read the Times for weekly news quizzes, said she thought that having this service would be very helpful.

“I just want[ed] to make sure that the pay wall didn’t become an excuse or a reason not to read it every day,” she said.

Wilson, who promotes the readership of the Times on college and university campuses, said calculations are made based on the amount of hard-copy papers taken out of the dispensers and are used to create a number of online passes.

“[Then] we calculate the number of matching … academic potential passes for the next fall,” he said.

Using student activity fees, the papers are paid for based on the quantity that are taken from the bins.

“We only pay for the papers that are taken, so we don’t pay for the papers that might be left at the end of the day,” Assistant Vice President for Student Life Belinda Marner said. “So they count them, and then they bill us based on the number of papers that are taken.”

Wilson said he thought a lack of time was the reason students were not aware of the online passes, but he hopes that UISG’s work would bring more publicity.

Valde, noting that no one on campus knowing about the service was a problem, said UISG is working on a plan to promote the project and advertise it to students.

“It’ll sort of draw peoples eyes to the Collegiate Readership Program and maybe remind more people … that you can take these papers for free and that they exist for students,” she said. “We want to increase how many students use Collegiate Readership Program as well as promote the fact that you can do this online access.”

In about a month, UISG plans to receive a final copy of the new logo to promote the program. The logo will be added to posters and placed around campus. Specifically, Valde said, the logos will be in the proximity of the existing news bins to remind people of the online accessibility.

While several officials maintained that their focus lies on online availability as one way to improve news readership, they also hope it will bring further attention to the traditional print versions.

Valde said increased efforts need to be implemented, particularly for the freshman class, in promotingh the no-cost service.

UISG Vice President Jack Cumming said he hopes the campaign will not only boost online activity but movement with the hard copies as well.

“Those dispensers are all across campus so it would be great to see people get more use out of them,” he said. “Hopefully, by marketing it, we’ll see more students with newspapers.”


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