One of the topics that came up two weeks ago when I attended the Mid-America Press Institute’s“Managing in the Digital Age” workshop was  QR codes.

For the uninitiated, QR codes are square “bar codes” that can be read by smart phones. You can embed information in a QR code that will allow the smart phone user to access a web page, or an e-mail address, or send a text, etc.

Monday, I was discussing the topic with an advanced digital media class and we thought about some ways college newspapers could use the codes.

An obvious way to use them is in advertising. But another great way to use them would be to place them in the editorial content to promote content in their online presence. Think about it: when you promote online content in the newspaper, usually you are asking the reader to set aside the paper and go to a computer, type in a Web address, and find the content. With a QR code, the reader can scan the code in the publication and be right at the relevant content immediately.

After the class, I sent an e-mail out to the CMA listserv to see who was using this technique and for what purposes.

Newspapers that have been using them include the N.C. State Technician (ads), Minnesota Daily (ads, per Logan Aimone at ACP), Texas Wesleyan’s Rambler (editorial), the Northern Illinois UniversityNorthern Star, and the College of Charleston student newspaper (per Mandi Bryson, assistant student media director).

Here’s a sample of how the Northern Star has used them (thanks to Jim Killam for the PDF):


The biggest issues with using QR codes in the student news media (as I see them) are smart phone adoption, and conceptual understanding.

In one class I did a survey and 1 out of 14 students had a smart phone. On the other hand, smart phones are becoming more common across the U.S. population of cell phone users.

But many smart phone users don’t even know what those square blotches of ink are supposed to mean. If you do plan to do something with QR codes for smart phone users, you’re going to have to add some informational content to explain what those things are.

Three years ago when I first heard about QR codes, they seemed like an interesting, but slightly opaque, addition to the use of mobile phones and the Internet. Now, when I travel, I see them cropping up more and more, and the trend is likely to continue.

Are there other college media outlets using QR codes in their publications? If so, drop a comment in the comment section or e-mail me at scmurley -at- and I’ll update this post.

And for those who are interested, here’s a list of QR code generators. One thing I would caution: when you generate a QR code, make sure you have a smart phone handy to make sure it works before you put it in the publication. Nothing will abuse people of the desire to check out your QR codes more than it not working when they use it the first time.

Update 1: Susan Kirkman Zake mentions that The Daily Kent Stater has been using a QR code in their flag for the last week to promote, with additional info on how to use it. Here’s a screencap from the PDF version:



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