Crane/Lesher article inspires teaching with campus news

The featured image above is a partial front page from the Easterner (Ball State), one of the newspapers Crane and Lesher studied for their article.

Jill J. Crane and Marcella Lesher’s Summer 2018 Journalism History article “Beyond the Campus: National and International News Coverage in College Newspapers, 1920-1940” lends itself to classroom study across disciplines. The article could inform a single lesson or a semester-long project in several subject areas, including history, English rhetoric or composition, journalism, political science, and social science research methods.

In general, Lesher said, examining campus newspapers offers students of today an opportunity to learn what college students were thinking about many generations ago.

“If college students are important to us, then what they write is important to us,” Lesher said. “Historical campus newspapers provide a tool teachers can use to hopefully elicit more interest from the students.”

Crane pointed out that this tool is becoming more and more accessible. Both librarians in the Louis J. Blume Library at St. Mary’s University (San Antonio, TX), Crane and Lesher are excited that campus newspapers are becoming readily available in digital format.

“We want students to be able to use these resources, and we want to let teaching faculty know they’re available,” Lesher said.

Crane added that teaching with primary resources helps students gain a deeper understanding of a topic.

“We encourage teachers and students to work with archives and special collections, including in the digital space,” Crane said.

The digitization of their own campus newspaper, The Rattler, inspired Crane and Lesher’s research, but they looked at a variety of newspapers across the country for their Journalism History article. Faculty could work with students using past issues of their own campus newspapers or take a broader approach like Crane and Lesher did.

Many campus newspapers are available online. A simple Google search for digitized college newspapers yields plentiful results, or students could try searching for newspapers at specific universities. – Erika Pribanic-Smith

Suggested Activities

Comparisons Across Time

For these exercises, students would examine campus newspapers to explore how issues/events differed or how the makeup of the newspapers differed over time—as well as how they were similar. For a single class exercise, the instructor might choose two distinct time periods for comparison. For a semester-long project (completed as a class or as individual student research essays), students could examine a span of time.

News and Society

Students could choose any two time periods for a comparison of issues and events. A comparison between the Depression Era (the focus of Crane and Lesher’s article) and today may prove particularly informative. Crane and Lesher pointed out some familiar themes that they noticed in their research, which a course instructor might use as prompts for a then-and-now comparison:

  • Coverage of the British royals
  • American isolationism
  • Ideas about war
  • Patriotism/nationalism
  • Students’ economic concerns

Makeup of the Student Newspaper

Following are some elements students could look for when exploring changes and similarities in the makeup of the student newspaper over time:

  • How much coverage of world or national events does the paper have?
  • What products/services are advertised and how?
  • Does the newspaper have sponsors? What are they? How do they affect the editorial side of the paper?
  • What does the newspaper look like? How is it laid out? Are there photos? Illustrations?
  • How is the newspaper circulated? Is there a fee for subscriptions?

News Values and Student Interests

For this exercise, students would examine a campus newspaper during a single time period to explore not only what national and international news student editors chose to cover but also what they chose to leave out.

This exercise requires knowledge of the historical time period selected for study.

In examining the topics covered, students should consider the following:

  • What news values apply to the national and international issues and events the campus newspaper chose to cover?
  • How do the national and international issues and events the campus newspaper chose to cover meet the needs and interests of the student population?
  • What important national and international issues and events did the campus newspaper choose not to cover?
  • Considering student needs/interests, news values, and other factors, how do you explain why the campus newspaper chose not to cover those issue and events?

For a more in-depth project, students might explore multiple campus newspapers to see how news gatekeeping differed. The project may focus on the multitude of issues covered/not covered during a distinct time period, or students may choose to focus on a single issue (Lesher mentioned campus unrest in the 1960s).

Students might consider how interests and needs differed across the following types of student newspapers:

  • Campuses in big cities vs. small towns
  • Large universities vs. small colleges
  • Campuses in different geographical regions
  • Historically black colleges vs. historically white colleges
  • All-male campuses, all-female campuses, blended campuses
  • Religious institutions vs. secular institutions

Students also might consider comparing the news coverage in a campus newspaper to that of a professional newspaper.

Student News Consumption

Armed with knowledge from Crane and Lesher’s article about how students consumed news in the 20th century, students could explore how their fellow students consume and distribute news today, beyond the campus newspaper.

This exercise may take the form of a class discussion, an informal “on-the-street” poll of their peers on campus, formal focus groups on their own campus, or online surveys of students on their campus and beyond.

Issues to explore may include the following:

  • What level of interest do college students have in national news?
  • What level of interest do college students have in world news?
  • When did they become interested in national and/or world news, and why?
  • How do they get their world and national news?
  • Do they use social media to share national or world news? If so, what type of issues or events do they typically share?

Are past issues of your campus newspaper digitized and publicly available? If so, please share the link in the comments below.


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