Publicizing the Present: Print Journalism and Tufts’ Digital Age

Student publications are critical to the voice and expression of the student body. As technology has dominated our lives academically, politically, and socially, print publications are less “en vogue” and digital forms of publications have taken over. Student publications are not just meant to be kept in dusty bins only to be revived generations later by curious descendants; these publications are often personal and elevate the voices of students. A print copy of these works cements a kind of concreteness that deviates from digitized texts. Will technology dominate our transmission of information at Tufts, or is there a glimmer of hope for student journalism in print? 

Des Porte, the co-Editor in Chief of Onyx, the only literary magazine on campus dedicated to Black student voices and experiences, stated that “print publications are very relevant, especially in the case of Onyx, because it was developed in 1984 as a means for Black students to come and share their grievances that they had with the institution.” For many students on campus, Onyx represents something larger than just a student publication. It reflects the voices of the Black student body at Tufts and is a space for creative expression at this predominantly white collegiate institution. In addition to serving as an outlet for Black students, Onyx “act[s] as a safe space to share Black joy and experience… It’s important for us to have different mediums for our students to show their creations,” said Porte. 

For Porte, their initial experience with Onyx was finding the magazine on a coffee table on display in the Africana Center. “When I saw Onyx magazine in Capen Lounge [my freshman year],” Porte said, “I was like ‘I want a piece in Onyx.’ ‘I want to have something submitted by the time I graduate.’ This is for freshman year me to have my little piece in Onyx.” 

Onyx uses both printed copies and an online presence to reach its audience. According to Porte, “It’s nice to have a physical copy… It’s nice to have different ways that you can use this art… Onyx has been digitized…from the years 1984 to 2009 [available in the archives], but I still end up printing out a lot of those versions, so I feel like it’s very important to have physical copies.” 

The online presence of Onyx exists primarily through Instagram as a way to share student work. “We mostly use our Instagram to share a lot of poems or art that we have. We do have a website but [it] is under construction, so once that is fixed you can also view our works from there” said Porte.  

Onyx is just one of many arts and literature themed publications that have been adding a digital component to their publications. The Historical Review, Melisma, and Future Histories all have websites where interested users can access articles and pieces from recent publications as well as from their archives.

The Tufts Daily, one of Tufts’ largest publications, has also been managing the balance between creating digital and print content. Alex Viveros, the former editor-in-chief of the Daily, said, “I am of the opinion that [print journalism] doesn’t really work anymore… I think we’re so digital now and print journalism [doesn’t]… really follow how news is spread on campus… the Daily reports on something [and] half of campus already knows about it because, you know we have Sidechat, Facebook, [and] Twitter.” 

Additionally, Viveros emphasized that the spread of news is considerably more rapid in digital formats. “… there’s a lot of stories that just go unreported, ’cause we simply don’t have enough people or by the time we report on it, it’s already old news,” Viveros said. 

He continued to say that publications on campus should consider a more digitized format as opposed to physical ones. Viveros noted that, “Tweeting is [also a] part of journalism… If something had just happened, [journalists will]  just tweet it out, and that’s how the news is received [today].”

For the Daily, Viveros recounted the amount of work and money printing physical copies of the newspaper along with the concurrent rise of the Daily’s social media presence. “I want to say 2010 is when we really increase[d] our social media [presence]. In my freshman and sophomore year, the Daily printed four times a week. We printed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and not Friday. The reason they dropped Friday [is] because it’s so expensive… At the time [it was] like 1200 copies a day.” It led Viveros to question whether the Daily is “a print publication that also publishes online or a media publication that focuses on [publishing] online but also publishes in print? That’s kind of like two different models.” 

In contrast to the Tufts Daily, some publications, like the School of Museum of Fine Art (SMFA)’s Currents, an art and literature zine, chose to use social media to share their content, rather than an online website. Fiona Jacobson-Yang, social media manager and graphic designer for Currents, said “a lot of Currents’ aesthetic choices are influenced by internet culture” and include images from the internet itself. Currents’ staff “are very active on [their] Instagram… [They] had virtual elements in [their] last [issue] where you could scan QR codes to hear music online etc.,” said Jacobson-Yang. On the Currents Instagram, followers can find videos of monkeys on their stories, interactive polls, and photos of the staff. All of these alternative forms of content sharing expand upon the traditional art/literature content found in their physical publication and the traditional online formats of content sharing. At the same time, the physical copy of Currents bridges both online and physical pieces of media with QR codes and internet meme references, reflecting the changing landscape of publications in the digital age. 

Despite the incorporation of digital aspects in many student publications, print copies continue to be equally as important for spreading visibility of publications. This is especially true for the art and literature magazines that are relatively new on campus. Lauren Fischer, the lead designer for Future Histories, said “for the same reason that clubs and events promote themselves on printed fliers taped around campus, having a physical presence makes publications more accessible and noticeable.” 

Print copies allow “anyone walking in the entrance of any of the major buildings on campus [to] see these publications in the corner of their eye, and, even if they don’t pick a copy up and read it right then, that’s still an important form of visibility,” said Fischer. Moreover, because Future Histories is a submission-based publication with writers and artists submitting from inside and outside the magazine, “having physical copies for those whose work [Future Histories] showcased is exciting for those students.” 

Of course, not all submissions can make it into the print editions of student publications due to the sheer volume of interested students. Melisma, Tufts’ music journal, uses its website for “articles that are churned out on a regular basis, such as concert previews and reviews, end of year lists, and anything else that does not make it into the magazine,” said Andrés López, co-editor-in-chief of Melisma. Online platforms are also used to publish longer pieces that do not fit for spacing reasons in print publications. López furthered that “long-form article[s] will only have an excerpt of it in the magazine, and the complete article will be online,” allowing for more flexibility in their publication, as their print copies have limited space. 

Melisma, similar to Currents, has also gained traction on social media. Their Instagram page features various segments such as “‘Friday Five,’ which highlights five new albums that were released that week; ‘Foraging,’ which promotes releases by up-and-coming artists; and ‘What Are You Listening To?’ videos where Tufts students are asked what they are listening to at that very moment,” said López. Since the publication of the “What Are You Listening To?” series, the Melisma Instagram account gained 100 followers on Instagram, revealing how their social media platforms have been increasingly vital in gaining more visibility for the magazine. 

Melisma co-editor-in-chief Ian Smith explained, “nowadays, our website and our magazine are both integral and equal[ly] important parts of the magazine since our pictures and reviews of shows go up on our website only.” Student publications, while mainly targeting Tufts students as their primary audiences, also wish to reach beyond the campus. Smith said they “think of it as the [print] magazine offering content only for Tufts, and the website allowing us to expand our audience to other parts of the country.” Smith echoed similar ideas to Fischer saying that “in terms of community, coming together with a group of like-minded people to make something from scratch and then to have that finished product in your hands alongside everyone who helped out with it… can’t be replicated easily online.” 

In many ways, Tufts publications are not just about what they physically print, but also about newer and different digital content, including playlists accessible from QR codes, Instagram Reel videos, Instagram stories, and web articles. Print publications have accordingly expanded and redefined many staff roles to include those who specialize in social media. While online media platforms have allowed publications to expand the range of their content, ultimately Tufts publication staff members note the satisfaction of having something published in print, where one can feel the fruits of their labor. As Andrés López said, “there is something special about physically holding the magazine in your hands and flipping through the pages as you read.”