At our first onboarding event for The Hoya, we remember how a well-known news media professional who then consulted for The Hoya informed us that the only thing we need to know about a journalist’s job is that it is always changing. This was especially evident in 2016.
The Hoya faced headwinds heading into its 98th year. When we started our roles as editor-in-chief and general manager, the newspaper was on a precipice. Print readership and thus advertising revenue had declined year after year. The continued focus on print, however, had disconnected the paper from the majority of our readers, who accessed our content online. The Hoya was also in serious need of investment, though a shrinking topline forced the organization to rely on external funding sources, making budgeting for investment virtually impossible. Against this backdrop, our leadership team engaged in a monthslong process to identify what change was necessary if the paper was going to survive the coming decades.
As we kicked off an assessment to understand The Hoya’s future, it quickly became clear that we needed to become a digital-first publication. A pivot to an online daily format with a weekly print edition would allow us to leverage our deep content expertise, diverse and inclusive culture, and entrepreneurial spirit to take on a quickly evolving media landscape.
The leadership team put countless hours into a framework that would eventually form the foundation of this transition. We solicited input from experts, our membership and our readers, knowing much was at stake — no less than the future of an organization that had been integral to our Georgetown University experience. Our team set ambitious goals, but they were exactly what was needed to take The Hoya into the digital age.
In the spring of 2017, having consulted with our most important organizational stakeholders and after 30 years of printing twice weekly, our leadership and the wider membership of The Hoya voted overwhelmingly in favor of transitioning to an online daily format with a weekly print edition. It was time to get to work.
Our North Star was always our readers. Through the ups and downs of the organizational overhaul, we evaluated our work by how it would improve our content and further our relationship with our readers.
Daily online publication necessitated a drastic increase in the volume of our content, and as we considered ways to increase our production capacity, we had to redefine our relationship with students, faculty and members of the community and understand where there were gaps in our coverage. We also understood that online articles have always been met with greater scrutiny simply by nature of the medium, according to a study by Kantar. For our writers and editors, this skepticism meant increased diligence to ensure the factual accuracy of every article. It also meant a renewed emphasis on community outreach in pursuit of balanced representation.
Within the first week of our term, we overhauled our entire online engagement strategy. Our readers had been finding us through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Correspondingly, we expanded our multimedia and social media teams and created content that would likely be consumed in a news feed on a mobile device.
To succeed as a digital-first publication, we also needed to become a 21st century newsroom. Gone were the days of exchanging article edits physically through USBs and undependable hard drives. Cutting one of our print issues allowed us to reallocate resources to building cloud storage systems, introducing online project management and communication platforms, and replace a technology infrastructure first put together in the late 1990s.
Perhaps the most important transformation of all, however, was cultural. Becoming a daily operation required our staffers to spend more hours in the office, often late into the night. This time was not spent on coursework, part-time jobs or social lives, but on publishing stories and giving a voice to people central to the Georgetown community.
When someone is first hired by The Hoya, they are told that the quality of our product is only as strong as the quality of our staffers; our membership is our strongest asset. Therefore, it was necessary to invest heavily in our staffers and their well-being. We expanded staff professional development opportunities, formalized philanthropy efforts, built a strong network of Hoya alumni and piloted a health and wellness initiative.
Those staffers who have worked with us know our bold predictions are few and far between, though, as we ruminate on our past experience with The Hoya, we feel confident in one thing: Though The Hoya will undoubtedly continue to evolve in its next 100 years, there is no better training ground to prepare today’s student journalists for tomorrow’s newsroom.
Toby Hung (COL ’18) is a former editor-in-chief of The Hoya. Daniel Almeida (MSB ’18) is a former general manager of The Hoya.