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Campus Life

Daily Free Press at the Crossroads

A weeklong series on the life and times of the Freep


The Daily Free Press showed up this morning as usual, and given a 39-year history of committed student journalism, there is little doubt that it will show up again tomorrow.

That’s news, good news.

But the daily paper that has meant so much to Boston University — born in the strife and strikes of 1970 as a feisty and independent student voice, at one time the city’s third-largest daily, training ground for great journalists who have fanned out across the nation and the world — is struggling.

It’s publishing four times a week instead of five, a cost-saving cutback. It’s printing 4,000 papers a day, down from the heyday of a 25,000 press run, and each of those papers has fewer pages than years ago because paid advertising, the revenue backbone of any newspaper, has shrunk.

Challenges confronting newspapers all over the country also bedevil the Freep, as many affectionately call the paper. Online news sources, fast and digital, make the process of trucking newsprint from a thunking printing press into the hands of readers on street corners look like a throwback. Competing sources of information, on campus and off, have made what once was an indispensable funnel of BU info seem less essential. There may even be a sense that a student newspaper willing to take on the University no longer resonates with students.

What hasn’t changed is the need for independent, engaged, informed journalism, essential to any democracy and essential to any institution of higher learning. Criticize it or ignore it, but if the Freep vanished, there would be a hole in this community’s fabric not easily patched.

So whither the Freep? We will be exploring that question with a series of pieces running through the week.

Today, we time travel, reviewing how the Freep came into being and evolved over the decades, tracing highlights.

Tomorrow, we examine the financial problems facing the Freep. Some are recurring, some new. Some will sound familiar to anyone involved with newspapers at any level, some particular to the here and now. In search of company and context, we check out other college and university publications to see if they’re facing similar issues, how they’re responding, and whether they can offer lessons.

Wednesday, we delve into the Freep’s impact on many who worked there, visiting with alumni who cut their teeth on these pages and later rose to the upper echelons of the profession. We join one family that “bleeds black,” as the old saying goes, with three generations steeped in BU journalistic ink. And we look into what most people see as the most passionate Freep years, engaging the man who was for many years its symbolic foe: BU President Emeritus John Silber.

Thursday, we hear from the Freep’s newest editor about her hopes and vision. And we wrap up with a communal offering and a series of suggestions — take ’em or leave ’em, that’s what it means to be independent — on what would keep the Freep alive and well moving into its fifth decade.

Why so much focus on one topic? Because the Daily Free Press, this student newspaper as well as the grand idea its name embodies, stands at a crossroads.

Seth Rolbein can be reached at srolbein@bu.edu.

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