Student newspaper Villa Vibe launches in The Public

Villa Maria partners with local alternative weekly to bring back student newspaper

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Buffalo’s largest print alternative weekly newspaper, The Public, usually features an art print — paintings, drawings, photography, etc. — as its centerfold. But in the April 25 issue, Villa Vibe debuted as a four-page insert in the middle of over 30,000 copies of The Public distributed throughout Western New York.

Villa Maria College, a small private college of just over 500 students, hasn’t had a newspaper since the late 1990s, and even that iteration, called The Viking, was more of a yearbook or newsletter with announcements than a newspaper, according to Joyce Kessel, an English professor at Villa Maria. Villa Vibe partnered with The Public to not only bring a student newspaper to Villa Maria for the first time this millennium, but to produce one on newsprint that could showcase the work of the school’s two-year-old digital media and communication program.

Villa Vibe started as an honors project for Alexandra Snow, a junior digital media and communication major. When she pitched the idea of a newsletter to Michelle Kearns, an instructor for the digital media and communication program, Kearns suggested expanding it to a student-wide newspaper instead.

“It became a project that me and other students from the intro to journalism class took on over the past two semesters,” said Snow, the editor for the newspaper. “We have people coming and going, and are still figuring out all the issues that come with something like this.”

Villa Vibe has an annual budget of $200 to work with, making the task of printing on newsprint financially difficult. Kearns and Geoff Kelly, the editor-in-chief of The Public, worked out a deal where for the price of a full page ad from Villa Maria, The Public would print the Vibe as a four-page insert. The ad –– discounted at around $850 –– would cover publishing and distribution costs.

During the discussions, Kearns and Kelly started thinking about expanding the idea and partnering with other colleges in the area. They referred to Villa Vibe as a “pilot project” for future collaborations that would draw on “the young talent” in local journalism programs, Kelly said.

“[Villa Vibe] is the first of these, and they put this together really fast and met some stringent deadlines,” Kelly said. “The staff seems pleased with it, the students seem pleased with it and the administration as well. Something like this puts a good foot forward for the college, and we plan on reaching out to other schools soon to see if they’d be interested in participating.”

Kelly said a foundation has also reached out about the possibility of offering a scholarship to one of the students involved in this partnership.

The Public has long had an interest in special inserts of other publications, Kelly said. The newspaper currently publishes Loop Magazine, an LGBT magazine for the Buffalo area, every month. Kelly said they would like to have a monthly collegiate insert as well, and eventually other publications so that readers would have a different monthly periodical within the weekly The Public.

A recent tariff on newsprint put in place by the Trump administration has significantly raised the cost of printing, something Kelly said “has to be taken into account by all papers, including student newspapers” and poses an “immediate and existential threat.” He said the tariff has already had an impact on printing costs for The Public –– anywhere from 26 to 33 percent, depending on page count. Some universities will likely not want to support the rising cost of print editions for student newspapers, Kelly said.

But Kearns and students at Villa Maria said having the student newspaper in print is much more substantial and preferred than a purely digital platform.

“Once you start telling [students] you’re going to publish something in print, they get much more into doing the revisions and doing the things you need to do to make it publishable,” Kearns said. “It’s motivating; it just makes writing more exciting.”

Ana Echeverria, a junior graphic design major at Villa Maria, said students already read The Public, and having an insert seemed a “good match.”

“We read The Public because it’s all about the things that we want to know about,” Echeverria said. “It’s all about art, and different forms of art. … It really is already what Villa Maria’s all about, so it’s a nice fit.”

Villa Vibe plans on publishing an issue each semester, with the next one planned for the end of summer, according to Snow. The students also plan to expand and figure out what they want Villa Vibe to be exactly, covering more news on campus and Villa Maria’s athletics program.

Snow said learning journalism can be personally useful as well.

“I took a journalism class in high school, and the teacher really made me feel valid and that people cared what I had to say,” Snow said. “Being able to write about these things is really great.”

The digital media and communication program just finished its fourth semester, and Kearns said she hopes more students will explore what they want through Villa Vibe and journalism classes.

“One thing I like to do is play to a student’s interest,” Kearns said. “[Snow], for example, had a real interest in design and writing, so she was a natural to be editor. … It’s the same thing with story ideas. All of the stories the students wrote are born out of things within their interests.”

Dan McKeon is the copy chief and can be reached at dan.mckeon@ubspectrum.com and @Dan_McKeon_.