“WHO ACTUALLY reads those papers?” “I take them as an umbrella when it rains suddenly.” “Don’t the reporters do the work simply so that they could write another line of an extracurricular activity on their resume?”
The college press used to voice for the suppressed university students, and the pre-existing press and the society used to take them seriously - for real. Also, there was a time when sending *Yonsei Chunchu* to one’s boyfriend or girlfriend meant that they cared for him or her, by showing what was going on around their campus. Where is this culture to be seen now? Has college press become so meaningless that people should consider completely abolishing college press? Or, should we, the press, blame the readers for not taking the newspapers and magazines seriously enough? Where did college press come from and where does it stand now?
History of college press
“College press” is defined as newspapers, magazines and broadcasts, which are created and edited by university students and target members of the university, mainly the students and professors, as readers. Today, types of college press vary from newspapers to broadcasts, but since the newspaper is the earliest form of college press, analysis of the history of college newspaper is necessary in order to understand the history of college press.
According to the Doo-san dictionary, the college newspaper is very similar to the pre-existing newspaper, but it differs in that it is mainly focused on topics and affairs within university. The very first Korean college newspaper Soong-dae-si-bo was established in 1912 by the university that was part of the Soong-sil school which was administrated by a foreign missionary. After independence on Aug. 15, Gyeong-seong-ye-gwa newspaper was published in 1946. In addition, the Ko-dae newspaper of Korea University, Dae-hak newspaper of Seoul National University, Kyung-pook-dae-hak-bo of Kyungpook National University and *Yonsei Chunchu* of Yonsei University are some of the oldest college newspapers in Korea. Today, almost all the universities have their own newspapers.
With long history comes various roles, and the roles the college press played vary by decades. In the 1960s, major changes such as rapid economic growth and 2% of increase in population took place according to the Academy of Korean Students. Almost every field in Korea including politics, economics, and culture were undergoing a dynamic change, and the university students were in the frontier of movements to lead such change. Naturally such proactivity among university students brought about the birth of college press that valued independence and autonomy. Students were in charge of everything, from planning to editing to administrating, and it was common for the college newspapers to manage with the budget they earned from publishing advertisements on newspapers. In the 1970s and 80s, some universities established newspapers to demonstrate and publicize their authority. Friction between the universities and the government was great at the time due to youths struggling to achieve democracy under military authoritarian government. In order to protect the students from the aggressive influence of the government, the university authorities started taking control over college press. By doing so, the university authorities could watch what college press published, preventing them to have contents that could lead to the persecution of students by government. After the 1990s, following the flow of liberalization, the range of covered topics switched from politics into various and more trivial topics mainly around the university.
The role of college press changed by the different roles university students were required to play in each era. An interesting phenomenon observable from this history is that the status of university students and that of college press were interdependent on each other. There were two biggest roles the university students played. As a student, one of their roles was to study and prepare to become a member of the society. Yet, as elites of the society, the other role the university students took was to voice out their opinions towards the society. In the past, when their second role as a member of the society was recognized by people, university students were respected for what they thought and did. As such, the college press also had its own power. However, this is not the case today. University students are now expected to play the role of student mainly these days.
Decline of college press
There are several factors that affected such change in the social status of university students which eventually influenced the status of college press. One of them is the change in the population of university students. Before the 1990s, entrance rate for the university was just around 30% according to Korean Statistical Information Service (KOSIS). In other words, university students were considered a rare intellectual member of the society, respected and accepted as concrete social members. Such high status gave them privileges to be the leaders, their voices powerful and their opinions taken seriously. Naturally, their thoughts and ideas voiced through college press were valued.
History indicates that major changes for university students and college press occurred around the 1990s. According to KOSIS, the university entrance rate soared rapidly right through the mid 1990s. With the advent of the 20thcentury it reached almost 70%. Currently the entrance rate for university nears around 80%. Reasons for the rapid increase in the entrance rate can mainly be attributed to the economic crisis that is colloquially termed in Korea as International Monetary Fund (IMF). When the economic crisis broke out, it became harder to be employed after graduating high school, which in turn encouraged more people to start going to university instead of working right after graduating high school. As for the university, due to the economic crisis, it got harder to manage university with small number of students, so the authorities increased the entrance quota, to increase the total amount of tuition. Consequently, university students were no longer rare intellectuals or elites in the society anymore, but just common “students.” This phenomenon brought change in the status of college press after all. With university students being less recognized in the society today, college press could no longer expect as much social influence as it had before.
As mentioned above, since the mid 1990s, there were more articles about general social problems around the university rather than about politics. Due to the harsh reality of endless competitions, concerns and interests of most university students are neither politics nor making changes in society anymore. For example, take a look at the Annals June 2014 issue “Take a Break” column, and the survey conducted towards total of 127 Yonseians shows what they have on their mind. GPA definitely takes up a lot of space compared to the others. This suggests that university students are concerned with the matters directly connected to their role to study and getting a better job after graduation.
Diagnosis of college press
Rooted from the changes in college press, there are three main problems that most college press embraces today. The first problem is the absence of philosophy on the purpose of existence and the directions. The beginning of so many college newspapers was triggered by the competition between many universities based on the idea of “if the others have one, so should we.” Such newspapers without concrete philosophy naturally could not fulfill students’ desire to be informed of critical perspectives toward the society.
The second problem is that the college press pretty much mimics the pre-existing press on various levels from the structure and system, to the contents of the newspapers. This is ironical because college press has been criticizing the pre-existing press for its elitism or authoritarianism, and conformity to norms. However, despite its attitude toward the pre-existing press, the college press seems to be following the same path by showing no difference in the way it reports and the contents it covers. Consequently, it has been receiving criticisms on how it does not try hard enough to be more relatable and accessible to the readers. It should be able to reflect what the members of the campus think. However, with the lack of interest from the readers and insufficient college press’ effort to appeal to the readers, it has not been so successful in achieving this goal. It is also clear that the college press lacks the spirit to experiment.
The last problem has to do with autonomy and “money.” In 1961, after May 16 coup, the university authorities took control of the college press. Censorship of college press for the purpose of protection continued for about 25 years until 1987. Though censorship of college press is now almost unheard of, the system that puts the university authorities in charge of the press turns out to be a different form of censorship today. As previously mentioned, many college press are published under the name of the school authorities. Budget for printing, administrating and everything else comes from this authority. Though students pay for the press fee, it is still managed by the authority and then is distributed to the college press. Thus, for nowadays’ college press, it is almost impossible to be completely independent from the school’s authority, and consequently it is inevitable for that press to be affected by university’s interests in some degree. As a result, the college press is not so free and independent as it was originally intended to be.
As for the college press in Yonsei, the circumstances surrounding budget is much more severe since even the original amount of budget declined due to the change of payment method. The press fee was turned to opt-in style last year in 2013. According to “Diagnosing a year after the first enforcement of autonomic expense opt-in system,” an article written by Lee Won-jae, Cho Ga-eun and Cho Yoon-ho on volume 1721 Yonsei Chunchu, payment rate for Yonsei Chunchu fee, computed as \6,700 for the first semester of 2013 was 24.6%, and 13% in the second semester. This left Yonsei Chunchu to manage the organization with 70% the budget of 2012. With Yonsei college press having relied on budget from university authorities for years until now, it is rather difficult to get advertisements to cover the loss of budget right away. As can be seen from this case, the authorities’ decision to make abrupt change in system, especially in the budget, can be very critical to college press.
Future of college press
Although the college press is criticized for its lack of philosophy on existence, there are functions that it was supposed to exercise from its beginning which were agreed upon many, according to a research paper “Research on the roles university newspaper play,” written by Lee Joon-gu (Hongik Univ.) and many other research papers. The first one is the traditional function that the press has to exercise. The college press should report on what is going on around the campus and must aim to lead and guide the public opinion. It must also flourish college culture within the campus and inform students of what they need. The second one is to educate. College press should be educational for both the readers and the writers. For those who actually work for the college press, it could teach them what journalism is about. For the readers, viewers and listeners, it should help them cultivate themselves to be an intellectually stimulated member of a society by offering various topics of interest. The third one is publicity. It should inspire a school spirit and help create a sense of community and fellowship between students. Outside the campus, it lets the local community be informed of the school’s education policy, research, and the volunteer service that it provides. The last one is experimentation. The college press must be at the forefront of trying out new and creative styles rather than blindly mimicking the pre-existing press. By doing so, college press could provide new ideas and directions for press in general.
Keeping these functions in mind, clues to solve the problems could be found. Again, the college press ought to establish its definite philosophy and purpose of its existence. It would be very meaningful if a system for the college press from different universities to gather and discuss the future together is secured. When the purpose and reason for the existence of the college press is set together, there should be attempts to break out from the habit and start trying new things. Avoiding mindless imitation of the pre-existing press would be one of them.
There is also a need to clarify the term “the college press.” Whether college press should stand as a way for students to voice their opinions or as an official press speaking for the university is something controversial. The current system leaves college press to receive budget from the school authority and get final sign from a professor, which keeps the college press from being independent. To change such reality, we should keep in mind that although the efforts made by college press itself are important, the more fundamental change can take place only when readers begin to have a keen interest in college press.
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Current college press differ greatly from its past. It is less influential, and less independent compared to the past. For the members of college press, the need for change is desperate. Yet, it remains as a question whether our readers, viewers and listeners, the very targets and purposes of existence for college press, agree to the necessity of change to such degree. Now it is time for us to reach out for readers and show them the importance of college press, not just through touching words, but more importantly, through actual changes within press. Only then will the college press be something that “matters.”