Letters from the Editor: North to the digital future

In the most recent Sun Star Publication Board meeting the decision was finally made that The Sun Star will be converting to an entirely digital platform in the future. This means the long history of printed issues, which started with The Polar Star in the 1940s, will be coming to an end after this semester.

Back in 1946 a group of students fed up with the university’s news publication at the time banded together to create their own newspaper. The students found their own stories, typed them up, and ended up printing the first, four page edition of The Polar Star to distribute through campus. It was decades later that this same publication became what today’s readers know as The Sun Star. Originally a merger of the journalism department’s publication, The Northern Sun, and the student run Polar Star, the modern name was actually a placeholder that stuck over time.

The Sun Star, to this day, is student staffed and run. Our adviser comes from the journalism department and our Publication Board is made up of ASUAF members, the community, and the journalism department, but students are the people who compose, edit, and layout this paper for printing with the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, who own the last newspaper printing press in our town.

I received that lesson in newspaper history from my boss during my first year working for the paper. I heard it several times over in the years that followed until, miraculously, I heard myself repeating the same words to people who would ask me where the paper came from. Now I find myself in the strange position of wondering how people will describe this moment of our publication’s history.

We currently print the paper using money afforded to us by a portion of the student fee and any advertising revenue we can make throughout the year, plus any rollover funds we may happen to have. Unfortunately, in recent years, this model has become unsustainable. The plummeting economy has resulted in a shortage of ad sales, thus a shortage in revenue, and our declining enrollment rate brings in less student fee money as the semesters pass. With print media slowly declining as well, the decision to go digital has been a long time coming.

Digital publication will offer us the advantage of a wider audience. It will help the newspaper remain relevant, push the staff to be engaged in their reporting and open up positions for new skill sets. The Sun Star is far from going away; it’s moving on, into news feeds and over to social media outlets where it can reach more people than it ever has before.

What must be maintained, however, is the roots of the paper as a student-run source of news. The thing that makes The Sun Star truly special, in my eyes, is that it affords me, my editors, and my reporters the opportunity to run and manage a publication of our own before we graduate and go forward with our degrees. It’s an experience that I’m better for, that I see my staff learning from, and one that should persist into the future.

This semester rounds out in two months. In two months it’ll be my turn to pack all of the things I’ve moved into this office over the course of three years and let someone else carry The Sun Star forward past the digital horizon. The person who takes over after me may be an artist, an aspiring engineer, a journalist in the making, or even someone who isn’t quite certain. The only thing I know about that person for sure is that they will be a student.

I’ll leave you with words from our very first publication, the Oct. 28, 1946 edition of The Polar Star. It’s a call to action from those original reporters, editors, and publishers that I hope will remain relevant in the years to come. “Let’s really dig in, guys and gals, and make this paper a real STUDENT publication.”

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