It was the heady days of 2002 and years had gone by with Broadside, George Mason University’s student-run newspaper, gaining no considerable recognition.

Adam Modzelesky was determined to change that.

“We went so far as to do some (admittedly rudimentary) market analysis,” said Modzelesky, editor-in-chief of Broadside for 2002-03 in an email, “to learn what our audience was interested in and give it to them, which took a lot of time and effort, but in the end I think it was worth it because we obviously got buy-in from the student body.

“And, in doing so, I think it earned us some more respect from some faculty who — up until that point — probably didn’t think that highly of Broadside.”

In May 2003, Broadside was ranked ninth in the country by the Princeton Review. Nine years later with no record of any other awards, Broadside aspires to establish a routine that will allow for renewed recognition.

“I truly feel a return to the Princeton Review rankings will require patience and a substantial contingent of very dedicated/visionary Broadside staff members doing whatever it takes to be successful,” Modzelesky continued in his email. “It won’t happen overnight. You have to understand that my group was largely committed to doing whatever it took — whenever it took — to make Broadside a reputable publication.”

Broadside needs to start somewhere in its quest to renewed success and recognition.

“First, I think the staff needs to start with the basics” said Kathryn Mangus, director of the Office of Student Media. “Good reporting, writing and editing. More thought needs to be given to photos used — what do they add to the story? Second, more attention needs to be given to story selection, treatment and layout, including photos and graphics used.”

Intriguing feature stories embellished with pictures have the ability to attract attention. However, the real way for college newspapers to gain readership is by appealing to the interests of the university community.

“We need to be more inclusive of the entire student body,” said Cody Norman, current managing editor of Broadside.

It isn’t enough to rely on the interests of students living on campus, however. College newspapers need to reach out to grasp the interests of commuters, grad students and retired staff, editors at Broadside would agree.

“You need to know your audience,” Modzelesky said. “Which means you can’t sit in your ivory tower and just make guesses about what they’re looking for in the way of content or delivery. Guessing or thinking the ‘cool factor’ alone to generate interest is a waste of your time and resources; it’s much more effective to take the time to understand what your audience would like to get from you, and how.”

Once you have the content that audiences desire you just need to find the right place to market the paper. If it’s available in all the right places—the JC, residence halls, dining facilities and other locations across campus, then Broadside will be able to reach a larger audience.

“I think that the Broadside is a well-rounded enjoyable read,” senior communication major Brendan McAloon said, “however, sometimes the paper bins are located in inconvenient locations preventing me, and probably others, from reading while the news is fresh.”

If Broadside takes the necessary measures to become readily accessible all over campus, then its popularity among the student body could have the potential to flourish.

Popularity plays a huge role in the Princeton Review rankings. Once Princeton Review selects the schools that have some sort of reputation for journalistic ability, they publish a poll online where students can vote 24/7. After that, it’s entirely up to the school to get the word out to students to vote–and for the paper to give those students a reason to vote.

“If you’re not popular with your own student body, then you don’t stand a chance,” Modzelesky said. “In order to get votes for something like the Princeton Review, people have to be willing to take the time to show up and vote for their own school’s publication.”

The Princeton Review award brought light to the idea of what a college newspaper staff should aim for.

“The Princeton Review recognition was likely the culmination of lots of good work, consistency and reputation building with students and George Mason faculty over the course of a few years,” Modzelesky continued. “In other words, I think it took that long for us to earn everyone’s respect and attention through a number of quality outputs, and was the result of a core group of talented staff — year after year — consistently doing more than trying to pump out newspapers with decent articles, hoping people would see and read them.”

So the question remains: How can college newspapers gain ratings to put them on the map? Is it merely a matter of popularity or of great expertise cultivated over time and added experience?

“All in all …  I personally don’t believe it’s all about dreaming up and doing 1, 2, or 3 cool things that might resonate with people,” Modzelesky said in his email. “Success is contingent on being innovative, of course, but mostly doing your homework and delivering high quality products to people on a consistent, long-term basis.

“Sprinkle in some business-minded decisions that expand your reach and revenue and you’ll open up more doors for special, high-visibility projects that capture attention and respect.”