Heights editorial board members (L-R) Megan Kelly, Emma Healy, Owen Fahy, Madeleine Romance, and Lauren Wittenmyer. Photo by Peter Julian.

If journalism is the first draft of history, then The Heights has done its part in helping tell the saga of Boston College for the last 102 years.

Since it launched in 1919, the weekly student newspaper has covered landmark news and events that shaped the University, from the 1920 announcement by President William Devlin, S.J., that BC would erect a science building (which now bears his name) to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Heights also has reported on BC student life outside the classroom—1920s-era “smokers”; the seniors’ “Welcome Freshmen Show” of 1953; popular undergraduate-produced YouTube videos—and published student perspectives on everything from academics to political and social issues to personal relationships to the arts.

Now, The Heights is about to add a milestone of its own to BC history: Editor-in-Chief Owen Fahy ’22 recently announced that the newspaper will cease its print operations on May 3 and shift to an entirely digital format beginning this fall. 

The news was hardly unexpected. Like many newspapers in recent years, The Heights has struggled with the increasing gap between operating costs and advertising revenue (the newspaper became an independent student organization in 1971 and receives no funding from the University). The paper had already scaled back its print production while expanding its online presence through newsletters, social media, and its website

In a recent interview, Fahy said the possibility of an all-digital Heights was a subject of discussion in previous editorial boards well before he joined the paper as a freshman. Once he became part of The Heights leadership team, he and his colleagues ascertained the situation and felt it was an opportune time to build on the work done by their predecessors, make the move, and align the paper with emerging trends in student and professional journalism.

The Heights could’ve gotten by if we kept things as they were,” said Fahy, a San Francisco native majoring in International Studies with a minor in Leadership and Management. “But we want to put all our resources to work to make the great journalism we’re doing as widely available as possible. Through the paper edition of The Heights, you’re reaching about 1,500 people on campus; a Tweet reaches 50,000, all over the world. It’s impossible to ignore numbers like that.

“So, now we can rethink where and how we spend money that had gone to printing and distributing the paper. Maybe we send our reporters out of town to work on compelling stories, or to cover away football games; or we can create a well-designed web feature.”   

Still, for Fahy and his editorial board colleagues, the decision was not one made lightly or without regret. As part of their orientation at The Heights, staffers are given an overview of its history and tradition, and are unfailingly impressed by the legacy they are furthering; their perspectives are often strengthened through contact with Heights alumni. 

“There are plaques on the wall in the editor-in-chief’s office that list every student who’s held the position,” said Fahy. “They remind you of its rich history, and all the work that’s gone into making The Heights last as long as it has. The letters, emails, and phone calls we receive from alumni—whether they worked for The Heights or not—show how intense its connection with students has been over the years. When you’re a 20-year-old in charge of a century-old organization, you are very conscious not only of tradition, but of the mission you’re expected to uphold.”

“What really strikes me is how, from the start, The Heights has always stayed true to its mission: ‘for a greater Boston College,’” said Digital Director Margaret DiPatri ’22, a communication major from Wilmette, Ill., minoring in film studies and marketing. “Everything we do, and everything that those who came before us did, is truly with the intent to serve the BC community—and that is a really inspiring thing to be a part of. The decision was difficult to make since the print edition is something we all hold very dear, and we know it means a lot to many members of the BC community and Heights alumni.”

Since not all Heights staffers arrive with journalistic ink in their veins nor envision a future in journalism, The Heights may be their sole turn in the profession—which can make it all the more powerful an experience. Managing Editor Madeleine Romance ’22, a Miami-born English and political science major with a journalism minor, remarked on the “strong element of sentimentality” that Heights print issues inspire, recounting all the times she’s collected copies from the racks to take home so her parents could see “what their daughter spends so many hours a week doing.” And like their antecedents, Romance and her cohorts look back at sleep-deprived late nights of getting the paper ready for printing, “debating headlines and page layouts, but doing so with smiles on their faces.” 

For these reasons, there was initial hesitancy to make the digital transition, she said, but on further reflection “I knew we were in a unique position in Heights history, and I knew that if there ever was a time to do it, it was now.” Producing an “eEdition,” she said, will preserve something of the “weekly snapshot” The Heights has provided.

General Manager Mac McGee said the transition—which involved finding a digital host, creating appropriate digitals to advertise the changeover, communicating with the administration and community, and raising enough revenue to ensure a successful last semester of printing—has been a “complicated but rewarding experience that required everyone’s complete dedication.” The Arlington, Mass., native, who majors in environmental geoscience and minors in finance, is “most excited to see the many possibilities that will arise from this decision.”

DiPatri, who as the paper’s first digital director has a primary role in the new model, cited the transition campaign’s title, “To Greater Heights” as a philosophy and a goal.

“I love that we now have the opportunity to focus in on making The Heights the most accessible it has ever been for the BC community and beyond, and that our content can mirror that change and make a positive impact. I see this as the ultimate way to fulfill our mission statement.” 

Visit support.bcheights.com to order a copy of the final Heights paper edition and to learn about other ways to support The Heights.

Sean Smith | University Communications | April 2021