Money woes hit campus
As commercial media face bleak profits, some students struggle to overcome bottom lines
Across the nation college newspapers are either struggling with money or holding steady in a less-than-perfect economy. While college publications try to keep their advertising revenue and readership up to avoid job cuts and losing publication days, commercial newspapers have fallen behind.
Gannett Company Inc. publishes some of the nation’s best-known newspapers, including USA Today, 85 daily newspapers and 900 non-daily publications. In the past year, Gannett declared it would lay off 10 percent of its local newspaper workforce to remedy advertising revenue loss. The McClatchy Company, another newspaper publisher that publishes 30 daily newspapers, initiated a one-year wage freeze on all employees. With the decline in revenue worsening for the commercial newspaper industry, some college publications are avoiding their big brothers’ fate, while others are following suit.
With a budget provided primarily by advertisers or the university, some campus newspapers are experiencing money woes similar to their commercial counterparts. Because of the lack of money, the content and circulation of some student newspapers may be in jeopardy.
The Daily Bruin at the University of California at Los Angeles receives no funding from the university and is struggling to pull in money from advertisers, while the Red and Black at the University of Georgia, in Athens, Ga., rebounded after seeing a decline in advertising revenue. The Arbiter at Boise State University, in Boise, Idaho, saw its budget cut in half.
But some papers, like the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are experiencing business as usual as revenue has not declined and no positions have needed to be cut.
Even though college newspapers are alike in their missions, they experience different monetary fates. Recently, two national publications surveyed the health of campus media at both independent and dependent papers and came to glass-half-empty/glass-half-full conclusions.
Inside Higher Education published an article in September (“Print Journalism Squeeze Hits Campuses”) that found a drop in funding for several campus papers, while the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article days later (“Student Newspapers Escape Most Financial Problems of Larger Dailies”) reporting optimism for college newspapers.
The Daily Orange, an independent newspaper at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., announced it would cut publication days from five days to four, just as the Daily Californian, another independent newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley, announced it would drop its Wednesday publication.
“The Daily Cal is in a serious financial crisis from a downturn in advertising revenue,” said Bryan Thomas, editor in chief. “We had to cut a day of publication this semester, and we’ve significantly reduced other expenses, including pay for our students.”
The Daily Bruin, an independent student newspaper at UCLA, does not receive funding from the university.
“All revenue for UCLA Student Media is generated from our own staff,” said Jeremy Wildman, business manager. “We had a poor first month with a deep decline in national advertising, but we have had an increase and look to have rebounded for October 2008.”
The Daily Bruin’s revenue has fluctuated in past years, experiencing a decline in revenue between 2001 and 2005 while rebounding in 2006 to 2008.
Lauren Fine, research director of ContentNext, a media company that chronicles the economic evolution of digital content that is shaping the future of the media, said it all comes down to extracting some value for the content in the form of a cover price and/or better advertising sales.
“Playing with the frequency is one near-term solution,” she said. Fine said creativity is key to keeping a newspaper alive.
Brad Arendt, general manager of the Arbiter, a university-sponsored student newspaper at Boise State, said the newspaper is not doing well.
The Arbiter’s funding was cut in half by a committee composed of students, faculty and administrators in the fall, and the Arbiter lost its second largest advertiser, which had been advertising with the newspaper for 12 years.
However, when it comes to lowering wages or cutting circulation days, he plans to hold off on doing so.
“The economic situation has hurt us,” Arendt said.
As Arendt looks toward the future, he said it is hard to predict what is going to happen to the newspaper. He said he would rather cut circulation than student jobs.
The Arbiter has thought about ways to ensure that it does not venture into the red. With eroding advertisers, the average amount of 12 pages per issue may drop to 10.
Because of a lack of funding, the newspaper had to cancel travel to two conferences the staff planned on attending and delay the purchase of new computers. The Arbiter staff has to deal with a lack of computers and space for its 53 staff positions, one full-time position and 25 interns. The Arbiter newsroom has five desks for interns, which cannot accommodate the 25 interns at once.
Arendt said the interns have to worry about the lack of space when it comes to working and gaining experience in the newsroom. Some have to work outside the newsroom, which hinders their hands-on internship experience.
Arendt believes that the committee that cut the newspaper’s budget in half will reinstate its budget back to its original amount and that any miscommunication was cleared after meeting with administrators.
Miscommunication about the money the Arbiter received from student fees, the amount of money the newspaper had in reserve and money the newspaper made from advertisers, painted the Arbiter as having an abundance of money.
“I have hope because the administration has recognized that we should not have been cut,” said Arendt. “They have been really supportive.”
Economic shortfalls to one newspaper might be bad, but for the Good Five Cent Cigar, the student newspaper at the University of Rhode Island at Kingston, the state’s nine-figure deficit is giving the newspaper an overflow of stories to report. And as fruitful as the stories are, so is the funding.
“We definitely have more full-page ads than in recent years,” said Chloe Thompson, managing editor. “ We also haven’t really had any staffing problems. The economy is giving us an overflow of stories to cover, since Rhode Island has a deficit of more than $300 million.”
The Red and Black, an independent student newspaper, is doing fine, but Harry Montevideo, publisher of the paper, worries that with the commercial newspaper industry faltering, recruiting students to work for the newspaper may become difficult.
“The malaise that affects the commercial newspaper industry and other media may make careers in newspapers or journalism less attractive to college students,” he said. “If enrollment in the journalism programs decrease, then we might find it harder to attract students to come work for us.”
Montevideo said the Red and Black has not yet seen that happen. For 25 years, the Georgia paper has been funding a reserve “to insure its long-term viability,” he said.
The newspaper owns its own building and is free of any debts or mortgages. Because of the economy, the paper has only seen a small decline over the past three years. With no budget cutbacks, the newspaper staff expects to make a slight profit in 2008, according to Montevideo.
“As with most college newspapers, we’re fortunate to have somewhat of a captive audience,” Montevideo said. “Since students, faculty and staff are required to be on campus most every day, we have a large base of readers congregating in a relatively small geographic area.”
The Red and Black offers free copies and a wide variety of content.
“There’s something for everyone and very few reasons not to pick one up,” he said. “It’s generally a quick read, and when students see their friends reading copies there’s also the ‘peer pressure’ factor.’”
Logan Aimone, executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association, a non-profit educational association, said that the college newspaper is a nicely targeted product geared towards a specific audience, but it can still have its problems.
Aimone said college newspapers, like commercial papers, are facing revenue shortfalls because of the economy.
“Advertisers are spending less,” he said.
Montevideo said the Red and Black does not anticipate changing anything about the newspaper.
“We think there is still a number of healthy years ahead for the Red and Black and many other college media organizations,” he said.
Montevideo is also the chief administrative officer of a small “not-for-profit.” He manages accounting, insurance and other managerial responsibilities at the Red and Black.
He said that like the newspaper industry, the Red and Black is looking at ways to increase revenues from online publishing, but the paper is having similar problems as commercial newspapers with generating the same dollar levels online as they do in print.
“I think for the short-term and perhaps as long as students continue to read our printed products, we’ll be OK,” he said. “Long-term, I think we’ll have to be more innovative in finding ways to connect our community with the businesses they patronize and vice-versa.”
But after being in the newspaper industry for many years, Montevideo admits he does not have a quick solution to the economic problems in the industry.
“I wish I had a formula to share, and I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now,” said Montevideo. “But so much has changed with the Internet, the problems commercial newspapers are having with readership and now the economy.”
reports, Winter 2008-09