by Roger Pynn
Journalists, journalists-turned-public relations people and lifelong PR folks seemed aghast on social media yesterday when news broke that Florida Today announced plans to cease publication of the Central Florida Future, the newspaper targeting University of Central Florida students.
Serving the nation’s second-largest university with a population in excess of 61,000, many couldn’t get their arms around how this could happen. After all, the Future started out as the on-campus, university-sponsored newspaper at my alma mater just two years short of half a century ago. The Central Florida news and PR community is heavily stacked with alumni from UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication … many of whom cut their journalistic teeth reporting and editing at the paper.
The Future became part of Florida Today in 2007 when its parent company Gannett purchased it after more than a decade of private ownership following a move off campus in 1992.
Oh my how times have changed … but it hardly seems surprising. If this isn’t an omen for the future of printed newspapers, I don’t know what is. As one of our UCF grad employees said, “The students don’t read that paper. They only want the gossip they can get online.”
If that’s the case, the social and civic implications are just as concerning as the future it portends for newspapers in general. Civic literacy scores have been plummeting for years with less than half of the tested population often failing tests that gauge their knowledge of how to participate in their communities.
Gannett didn’t get out of the business because it didn’t like young readers. It got out because there weren’t any. How we expect to rely on a generation that won’t read news (or can’t distinguish between news and gossip, commentary or online rants) is a scary proposition for those who have no choice but to place our faith in their ability to lead.