The University of Idaho’s independent student newspaper, the Argonaut, turned a new page this week, hosting the final production night for its weekly print product before shifting to a primarily online format.

Affectionately called “the Arg” by readers and staff, the paper has had a regular print product with few interruptions since 1898. Argonaut leadership announced last month that it will cease turning out a regular print product and shift toward a digital-first format that emphasizes online content delivered continuously throughout the week. The paper will continue to produce print publications in the form of special editions that editors say will be released around occasions like homecoming.

Past and current employees say this is far from the first time the paper has undergone a change in format.

“When I started, it was typewriters, then we bought the very first typesetting machine in 1974,” said UI professor and alumnus Kenton Bird, who was editor-in-chief for the Argonaut in the 1970s.

Bird said when he started with the paper, they were still laying out pages with a “paste-up” approach, in which they’d design pages by hand and physically deliver them to the publisher.

“I was here from the paste-up (model), which was labor-intensive and error-prone, to the desktop publishing model and the ability to transmit pages electronically to the printing plant,” he said.

Managing Editor Anteia McCollum, 21, said she expects print-first production models will go the way of paste-up, but students will still have opportunities to gain and practice skills related to print production. McCollum said she has heard concerns that new reporters will not learn how to perform tasks like designing pages and story selection, but journalism students will still learn these skills in class.

She said a big part of the argonaut’s function is to provide professional development opportunities to aspiring journalists, and it has a responsibility to give writers the chance to refine skills that will be relevant to a constantly evolving professional media landscape.

“It’s a matter of prioritizing the skills that the students need in order to get a job after college,” McCollum said. “With all of the alumni that come back and talk to us, time and time again we’ve heard that people wished they knew more about digital going out into the real world.”

McCollum, who will become editor-in-chief at the end of the semester, said special print editions will still come out roughly once a month and will be something like a “themed collection” of their best stories. She said she expects the first of these will print at the start of the fall semester and will be centered on orientation and the start of the school year.

McCollum said she is in the process of replacing social media editor and copy editor positions with teams of employees that will focus on putting things online and “doing the nitty-gritty, hands-on work,” necessary to finalize and publish news articles. She said the jobs of these two positions have grown considerably in the digital age and it makes sense to increase the number of people assigned to those tasks.

Logistically, she said the biggest change will be the elimination of weekly print deadlines in favor of giving editors the latitude to set deadlines for reporters on a story-by-story basis. She said this will allow the Argonaut to publish content on a more timely, daily schedule. She said this also eliminates the consistent problem of receiving the majority of stories from reporters at the eleventh hour before they go to print.

UI Student Media Advisor Tara Roberts said she worked for the Argonaut for four years as an undergrad and was editor-in-chief in the late 2000s, said community and camaraderie is an important part of participating in student media and students will still meet throughout the week to write and discuss their work.

Roberts said she has been working on the shift to digital-first for a few years but the COVID-19 pandemic put the need for a new model into new perspective.

“The last year has been hard and things look so different anyway, that the idea of this being the time to start fresh and the time to start something new feels good and it feels right,” she said. “In the fall I would sometimes go weeks without seeing a student, and it sucked … and knowing that with this new format, we’re going to have students in here every day and we’re gonna have stuff happening all the time is so exciting.”

Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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