By Jessica Clary
Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta
By nature, all university publications are niche publications. The audience is typically hyper-local, similarly educated and knowledgeable about the same topics. A college newspaper article uses terms and vernacular specific to that college when describing traditions and nicknames.
College newspapers aren’t USA Today, and they shouldn’t be. They should be broad enough to deliver something for the entire campus population.
But how well are college papers serving diverse groups of students who comprise their readership? The answer may lie with niche publications.
A 2010 article in the online “Above the Fold” describes niche publications this way: “Niche publications are those that publish to a specific group of people; a specialized audience. The publication becomes the expert in the subject, and the advertisers in the publication become the items to have among those spectators. The advertisers can target a defined group of prospects within the publications using niche marketing.”
The article, written by Annie McMindes, adds, “Niche marketing addresses the need for a product or service that is not being delivered by the mainstream. There are a variety of advantages in establishing a niche market, but probably the most beneficial would be that you’re alone there. You’re targeting such a defined group of people that may not have realized your existence until they find you in a niche publication.”
At North Carolina State University, the weekly Nubian Message and the daily Technician are among that university’s student-run media.
Describing itself as “the voice of African-American students,” the Nubian Message says it “allows people to learn about different aspects of African-American culture” and adds, “The weekly newspaper is a source of useful information for all students by reporting on appealing University events.”
African-American students comprise about 7 percent of North Carolina State’s 34,000 student population.
The Nubian Message was born in the fall of 1992 after the Technician ran a column that September calling students “racists” who rallied for a cultural center that could be used for the study of African-American culture.
The next day, Sept. 24, some 200 students rallied in the Brickyard to protest the column, even burning copies of the Technician, according to the Nubian Message website. The Nubian Message says, in part, “Greg Washington, a leader of the Brickyard protest in 1992, summed up his feelings about what should happen within Student Media. ‘We need a black paper on this campus that will give coverage to a black perspective.’’’
Two months later, the first issue of the Nubian Message was published.
Over the history of the Nubian Message, there have been periods of difficulty, and doubts have arisen as to how long the newspaper could sustain itself. Although the percentage of African-American students decreased from 9.1 percent in 1992 to 7.4 percent in 2012, the Nubian Message continues as a weekly publication.
Nubian Message adviser Patrick Neal says the newspaper faces the same general problems any college paper does, including recruitment and retention of staff.
However, Neal adds, “Student interest is up significantly from past years, due in part to a dynamic editor-in-chief who has really turned it around since she took the reins at the start of the 2012-13 academic year.”
The Nubian Message prints 500 copies weekly and is looking to add content to its online edition at thenubianmessage.com, as well as its social media networks.
Windover, another student publication at North Carolina State, specializes in fiction, poetry, drama, essays and music produced by students, alumni, faculty and staff. Windover is in print and online at ncsu.edu/windhover.
At the University of California Berkeley—a campus of about 36,000 students—60 student-run niche publications are in place. The publications range from literary magazines to peer-reviewed journals in history and science. Among them:
- Vagabond, a multilingual literary journal published in its original language and as an English translation. The website says the bi-annual journal “features poetry, short fiction, essays, and various other works in a diverse array of languages other than English, alongside with their parallel translations to English, written by UC Berkeley students and staff.” It can be found online at Vagabond Multilingual Journal @ Cal.
- Bare, a quarterly fashion, lifestyle and arts magazine, began publishing in 2007. Its website notes, in part, that “BARE publishes an all-color print publication quarterly, as well as the highly popular BARE blog, which receives over 19,000 unique readers monthly.”
- The Berkeley Science Review is a magazine produced by graduate students that aims to “highlight the groundbreaking research occurring at UC Berkeley in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, from biology to physics to computer science,” according to the publication’s website, which adds, “We strive to ensure that all of our articles are accessible to interested readers of any background . . . To that end, we train scientists and nonscientists alike to communicate scientific research to the public in a clear, interesting, and informative manner.”
Kelly Morr, publication adviser at Berkeley, says it’s never a problem finding interested students.
“Getting students involved has never been a problem we have faced at UC Berkeley. We are the birthplace of the free speech movement. Students attend the university because they want to have a voice, and we do our best to give them the opportunity to exercise it,” she says.
Each independent publication at Berkeley sets its own publication schedule. Some publications do large runs, and others are entirely online. The comedy magazine, The Heuristic Squelch, runs around 5,000 copies of two issues of a semester, but other magazines only print a few hundred copies. Each group is a student organization and receives funding through the student government. However, some still do outside fundraising and others get grants to help cover expenses.
The Berkeley community is unique in a lot of ways, according to Morr.
“As a university, we place a high value on diversity, freedom of expression and dialogue, so it only makes sense that we have student content creators who want to share their communities and passions with the rest of the Berkeley community,” she notes. “Having this number and multitude of publications and viewpoints is pretty emblematic of the university as a whole. We are a campus of niches, held together by our passion for Cal.”
The Daily O’Collegian at Oklahoma State University, in print and online at ocolly.com, recently launched a niche publication—a weekend entertainment tabloid—as a way to stem declining readership of the regular Friday edition.
“A weekend edition to focus on entertainment, food, drinks, etc., was readily accepted by everyone involved,” said Barbara Allen, O’Collegian adviser.
Allen said readership has been fair, with home football game issues the biggest and most popular. The Daily O’Collegian will publish the tabloid for at least one more semester before deciding whether to keep it or try something new.
Using a niche publication as an alternative or to solve a problem is always an option for campus media. It’s challenging, as students shift gears and try their hands at something different. But it’s also often successful.
Niche publications can run the gamut from a full-fledged special-interest publication all the way to an alternative publication to a standard campus newspaper, but most commonly, they come straight from student interest and enthusiasm.
For more information, here are 10 online articles about professional niche publications that have been published in the last five to 10 years:
- The Rise of Niche | Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project www.journalism.org/2009/07/16/rise-niche/ Jul 16, 2009 – The listings in a different directory, Hudson’s, puts the growth of niche publications generally since 1985 (including newspapers, magazines …
- Magazine Brands | Branding Magazines | Publishing | Niche www.brandchannel.com/features_effect.asp?pf_id=466 Feb 23, 2009 – It is primarily niche magazines that drive the growth of magazine brands. In the United States, for example, the top two magazines in circulation …
- Print Is Dead? Not For This Growing Publication Niche deadtreeedition.blogspot.com/…/print-is-dead-not-for-this-growing.html Nov 16, 2011 – Not For This Growing Publication Niche. Here’s a factoid that defies the conventional wisdom about printed magazines being passé and the …
- Niche Publications | Above the Fold www.abovethefoldmag.com/?q=article/niche–publications Sep 1, 2010 – Niche Publications are growing trends in both print and online advertising. I’m a strong believer in niches, especially for sales. Look at Amazon …
- Newspapers are finding their niche – News & Tech www.newsandtech.com › News › News Jun 1, 2010 – Three years ago, McClatchy identified niche publishing as being among its top-five growth areas and MNG has grown its niche segment in …
- Niche Media — blog.nichemediahq.com/ 4 days ago – Niche Magazines As Influencers: Study on Shoppers’ Buying Habits …. use) research when launching, and tips on growing a successful niche.
- Marketing Manager, Niche Publications at The Dallas Morning News www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/10132197 The marketing manager plays a critical role in support of achieving the long term growth strategies for the niche publications. The Marketing Manager will be …
- Magazines: By the Numbers | State of the Media stateofthemedia.org/2011/magazines-essay/data-page-4/ Two-thirds of the top 25 magazines had circulation declines through the … The four niche magazines in this group enjoyed strong growth in ad page sales in …
- Creative Business Strategies for Niche Publishers www.nicheconference.com/ That’s exactly how niche magazines need to treat their readers and … consistently recording the fastest growth rates; the most time spent reading; and the …
- 10 Keys to Publishing Successful Niche Magazines | Content That www.contentthatworks.com/blogs/Pauls/?p=1232 by Paul Camp – in 32 Google+ circles
Jessica Clary is assistant director of student media at SCAD Atlanta and advises The Connector online, SCAN Magazine and SCAD Atlanta Radio. She also helps organize critiques at CMA conventions, and is always seeking volunteers!