FAIRFIELD — Thirty-five years after a university organized itself amid a world war, a newspaper was born out of the embers of a different kind of battle — one between a student press some felt was taking things too far and a conservative university publication meant to counter it.

In 1977, a new iteration of a Fairfield University campus newspaper entered the scene. The Mirror, a weekly print newspaper, took the place of both the radical and conservative papers that came before it. Its role on campus ebbed and flowed, changing with the times and its annually appointed leadership’s goals.

Now, in its 40th year and the university in its 75th, The Mirror is reflecting and confronting the changing role of the press in the digital age.

The paper has grown and evolved as the university has, said Assistant Vice President of Administration and Student Affairs James Fitzpatrick, a member of the Class of 1970. Fairfield University recently launched a new digital journalism program. But as the online realm has grown, so have the ways students look for information and news.

“Up until the period where social media took over, the way students received information, it was really the student way of being informed as to what’s going on on the campus,” Fitzpatrick said of the print edition. “That obviously has changed, I would say, drastically over the past five years.”

Each generation of student leadership has had its own vision of their role as journalists, University Archivist Elise Bochinski said. In the 1960s, the all-male student body took their jobs “damn seriously,” aspiring to change the world. In the 1980s and 1990s, the newspaper shifted to a more social venture, but “now it’s sort of swung back the other way,” she said.

“It was so grassroots in the beginning, starting a university in the middle of World War II basically,” Bochinski recounted. “The very first paper in 1947 was just this mimeographed single sheet.”

Students vs. faculty

The Mirror was founded in 1977 and is university-funded with some faculty and alumni guidance. In the spring of 1970, animosity for the university’s administration was high, protests broke out and unrest spread across campus. Division existed in the student newspaper, “The Stag,” too, and there was a split.

Students launched the “Fairfield Free Press and Review,” a radical publication, and the “University Voice,” a conservative production of the administration, according to Bochinski. After seven years of division, less polarized viewpoints prevailed and a single student newspaper came about: The Mirror.

Apart from a brief publishing gap due to staffing shortages in the 1980s, The Mirror has published each week since. By the time of the newspaper’s founding, the university had its own culture and newspapers could print in color, a far cry from the wartime upstart with a single sheet news publication bearing headlines and inside jokes.

Over time, the newspaper serves as a primary source, documenting the university’s evolution. As a sample of issues important to students, gossip and other goings-on, The Mirror offers a historical glimpse into students’ “hearts and minds,” Bochinski said.

Four decades in, one tradition has found its way back into newsprint. Staff revived “Boos and Cheers” — a column where students can anonymously call out classmates to give them knocks or congratulations — this year.

But Fitzpatrick noticed another change. Students have always turned to The Mirror for their news and around the time of its founding, students could be seen holding the print edition throughout the dining hall. Now, far fewer print copies are seen in student hands.

Tradition vs. trend

The paper’s staff has made a social media push this year, attempting to grow Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat audiences and readership of its website, fairfieldmirror.com.

When she took The Mirror’s helm, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Jesse Erickson was asked if she wanted to go all digital, foregoing a weekly print edition. With the paper turning 40 and university hitting a milestone, she felt it wasn’t the time. While she called print a “campus tradition,” the senior said going online only is likely in the paper’s near future.

“It makes it a lot faster, everything has to be up quickly,” Erickson said of news in the internet age.

“It makes print a lot harder because if something happens Wednesday morning after the paper comes out, we’re old news already,” Erickson said sitting outside the glass walls of the newspaper’s office in the student center.

It is a trend that worries Fitzpatrick, who hopes the print copy will persist.

“I worry about the impact of The Mirror in that it’s essential on a college campus and essential here at Fairfield that there be a vibrant student press to keep us in touch as to what’s going on,” said Fitzpatrick, a faithful print reader. “When was the last time a student picked up a newspaper? Their world is digital, social, online.”

Administrators and faculty must make sure the newspaper receives support, he added, and maintains wide readership amongst students. The alumnus said, “I can’t imagine this campus without a vibrant newspaper.”

lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16