Date of Award

Fall 12-9-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

David R. Davies

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Fei Xue

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Christopher Campbell

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Cheryl Jenkins

Committee Member 4 School


Committee Member 5

Edgar Simpson

Committee Member 5 School



News deserts is a reference to geographic areas — most commonly counties — where no newspaper is published. The number of these areas continues to grow as more newspapers shut their doors because of financial difficulties brought on by a lack of advertising, a lack of readers, and the shift to online news consumption. College students studying journalism find themselves on the cusp of entering a profession where the number of workplaces and jobs is shrinking. They know it and the advisers of their college newspapers know it. Even with this arid prospect before them, the students are reporting news for their college campuses and many times for their communities and beyond.

A college newspaper is a unique publication because it does not have to produce a profit and it has a relatively stable workforce. This allows the students to be innovative, to try new approaches in print and online to report and deliver the news. College newspapers face some similar challenges to their professional counterparts. They also have traditionally depended on advertising to fund their operations, with many relying on their college’s administration to provide financial support, too. Just like professional newspapers, advertising for college publications has plummeted to almost nothing. Universities are facing financial difficulties because of declining enrollments, leaving less money available for the newspapers.

This case study of six Arkansas college newspapers examines how the student journalists at the institutions and their advisers are finding their way in this world. It looks at how the newspapers are addressing financial problems, adapting their internal structures, adopting new technology, changing their content, and measuring their outcomes to remain viable and to attract readers. The efforts are assessed against the organizational ecology theory, which examines how proposed changes are selected and retained. The results show student journalists in Arkansas are willing to change and have the initiative to grow their digital publications. However, they are underutilizing website and social media features that could draw more readers.