HBCU Students Relaunch College Newspaper After Yearslong Absence

Spelman College students revived The Blueprint with the help of the ReNews Project, an organization that helps HBCUs restart student newspapers.
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  • Students at Spelman College restarted The Blueprint after a seven-year publishing hiatus.
  • The Blueprint, formerly published online only, now also offers print copies thanks to the ReNews Project, an organization that helps historically Black institutions revive their student newspapers.
  • The ReNews Project covers all costs related to restarting student newspapers and provides advising and advertising consulting.
  • The Blueprint is thriving following the restart, with a staff of 30, and new issues planned for the future.

Two years ago, student news coverage at Spelman College — a historically Black women's college in Atlanta — was sparse. Students wanting to practice journalism went to the paper at the men's school across the street, Morehouse College, because they didn't have their own outlet.

Today, Spelman students have access to The Blueprint, the student-run newspaper revived by two students. Thanks to co-editors Mauranne Vernier and Kylar Gray, the paper, which stopped publishing in 2016, is thriving. Its first issue debuted online in March 2023, and it only grew from there.

In October, the new Blueprint published its first print edition with the help of the ReNews Project. The organization, which helps historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) restart student newspapers, provided advising, redesigned The Blueprint's website, helped secure advertising and distribution racks, and printed the paper's inaugural issue. And they did it all for free.

I feel like if ReNews didn't happen, we'd still be trying to find a printer, or start a website, Gray told BestColleges. They helped us in all the places we needed and really gave us the extra push to make this all happen. It's been amazing to work with them.

There are an estimated 1,600 college newspapers throughout the United States. There are just 107 HBCUs in the U.S. HBCU newsrooms make up a fraction of college student journalism, and that lack of diversity translates to professional journalism.

According to a Pew Research survey, as many as 76% of professional journalists are white, while only 6% are Black.

HBCUs are also underfunded by billions compared to predominantly white institutions, according to government reports. In restarting student papers like The Blueprint, the ReNews Project aims to provide HBCU students with the funding, newsroom training, and connections that could lead to future career opportunities.

A 'Must' for the Student Body

When the last version of The Blueprint — a solely digital publication — stopped operating in 2016, nothing had taken its place.

We had some students going across the street to Morehouse to publish stories in their paper, Gray said. But we needed a dedicated space for our students to write about what was happening in and around our campus. We needed to make sure our stories were heard.

So Vernier and Gray found a faculty advisor and met with Spelman administrators and student government officials about the need for a student newspaper. They also recruited a staff.

Fast forward to March of 2023, and The Blueprint had a fully functional staff that included photographers, writers, copy editors, designers, and leadership team members. The first issue of the new Blueprint, for Women's History Month, published online.

But the revival didn't end there.

After publishing the first issue, Gray applied for an internship with a college media organization Wesley Wright, ReNews Project executive director, was affiliated with.

I saw what she was doing with The Blueprint and reached out about ReNews, Wright told BestColleges. The organization had just successfully restarted the Coppin Courier at Coppin State University in Baltimore and was eager to take on a new project.

Wright involved other organizations that had revamped The Blueprint's website and offered free web hosting for a year. Another helped The Blueprint find advertisers to boost revenue.

Distribution bins were secured, printing partnerships put in place, and by October, The Blueprint had moved into the next stage of its rebirth. Its first printed issue hit the racks just in time for Spelman's homecoming.

It was a really exciting time to see how all our hard work had paid off. The students, the staff ... everyone loved it. It was just what we needed at Spelman, Gray said.

Increasing Diversity in Journalism

ReNews started in 2021 as a project of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

Wright, who is the executive vice president of SPJ Florida in addition to his duties with ReNews, said he saw a need for an organization that both helped journalism students at HBCUs and ensured transparency at the university level.

If there are students who want to go into professional media, or become reporters, we want to have them have an outlet to publish if need be. One of the only ways to become a professional in the journalism field is for people to get clips in college. Without a student media organization, that's difficult to do, Wright said.

The other side of it is, a lot of times these colleges may operate in secrecy. If there isn't any coverage of this, the community loses that. Functionally, too. The university loses when there's no coverage of their events. Maybe a reporter from a local paper can cover it, but a student can cover the campus better than some local news reporter who is juggling four things at once.

Since its inception, ReNews has helped Southern and Coppin State universities relaunch their newspapers — in addition to its work at Spelman College. Costs are financed by SPJ and cover a year of free website hosting, third-party advertising consulting, and printing costs for one issue of a new publication. The universities, themselves, are responsible for all costs going forward.

A Thriving Addition to the University Community

Gray said that on top of the staff of nearly 30, there's no shortage of new students looking to participate.

We received 50-60 applications from students who wanted to work with us this past year, Gray said. The paper is really popular with the student body.

While they don't have an established printing schedule, Gray said they hope to print at least one issue per semester with other stories publishing online as they arise. The next issue, for Black History Month, is scheduled for release in print in February.

In the meantime, Gray hopes students will continue her legacy long after she and Vernier graduate this year — if not for themselves, then for the college as a whole.

The Blueprint plays a huge role in helping people stay in the know about what's happening on campus and around the campus, too. Mauranne and I hope students continue to use it as a platform to share their stories and that more students continue to join.