Students lose some authority in Ohio State's contract with newspaper company



Ohio State University’s student newspaper The Lantern and Gannett Company’s Media Network of Central Ohio will exchange more than sales revenue and a monthly fee, according to the publishing agreement. The publication will turn over a handful of rights under its new, extended contract.

The Lantern announced Sunday that its business operations will be managed by MNCO beginning July 1. In addition to printing and distributing the publication, as the company has done for the past six years, it will now perform web hosting, email distribution, advertising sales, billing and collection services.

This is the first time a private company has assumed these duties at a non-independent college newspaper. While Gannett currently manages two college publications – the FSView & Florida Flambeau at Florida State University and the Central Florida Future at the University of Central Florida – those newspapers were privately incorporated prior to the company’s takeover.

MNCO, a subsidiary of Gannett, currently owns 10 daily newspapers and media operations in Central Ohio.

So, what’s the price tag for a deal like this?

  • MNCO will pay OSU a monthly fee, totaling $838,550 over the three-year contract term, according to the agreement. The first year alone will cost the company $274,000. MNCO will keep all of the advertising sales revenue it generates. The contract does not say where the money will go specifically, only saying the recipient would be OSU. Gifford Weary, dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences, who oversees departments including the School of Communication, said Tuesday the money would be reinvested in the editorial staff and journalism training.
  • MNCO reserves the right to renegotiate the contract if The Lantern doesn’t generate a net profit during any 10-month period.
  • In exchange for the fee, OSU will turn over content to fill the space, which is generated by journalism students in the School of Communication. Jami Jurich, former Lantern editor in chief, said Tuesday that the 15 paid editor positions are the only positions students apply for.? The majority of the content is produced by students in the classroom as part of the journalism curriculum, she said. Weary said students voluntarily submit their work to the newspaper and not every piece makes it to print. But the new agreement could be problematic, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “There is a difference between volunteering your work and being contractually obligated to submit it,” LoMonte said. “The question is: how much can a university promise from people they don’t control?”
  • The Lantern will surrender its existing student sales team to MNCO’s control. Weary said MNCO will hire a “student sales force” to work alongside company representatives, but it is unknown how many students will be rehired. There are currently 14 business staff employees, 12 of which planned to return in the fall semester, according to The Lantern’s announcement. One position has already been eliminated. The business staff held a meeting with MNCO on Tuesday to discuss the future of the team, but details of the meeting remain unknown.
  • OSU shall assist with transfer of the current hosting agreement between College Publisher, Inc. and OSU to MNCO.” MNCO will now host the student newspaper’s complementing website, TheLantern.com. It will switch from the current setup through College Publisher, if MNCO chooses to do so. The agreement allows the site to be hosted on either server.
  • “OSU shall also assist with transfer of the current advertising agreement between College Billboard Network and OSU to MNCO regarding the racks utilized for distribution …” College Billboard Network is a company that provides free newspaper racks and upkeep in exchange for the advertising revenue from the ad space on the racks. Ohio State University is among the universities that currently participate in the Newsstand Program. MNCO will take over responsibility for the racks.
  • “MNCO will continue the print publishing cycle and distribution schedule,” maintaining a distribution of no less than 14,000 copies to approximately 300 on and off-campus newsstands. Weary said these values have not changed from previous years. 
  • MNCO will ensure no advertising in The Lantern will “promote activities that are detrimental or damaging to OSU.” The limitations of this are not clearly defined, LoMonte said. For example, could a graduate school take out an advertisement in the paper even though it didn’t promote OSU’s graduate program? Or could a student advertise a protest to be held at the University? Weary said Wednesday that there would “be no change in the status quo.” She said no guidelines have changed with the new agreement.
  • After consulting the business and editorial sections of the newspaper, the faculty adviser will make the final call on advertising issues that may arise. If the editorial staff sees an ad placed that could be controversial, Weary said they can consult the newspaper’s adviser, who will act as a liaison between the editorial and business sides.

Tagged: College Student Media/Journalism, First Amendment, Student Rights