Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

Editors at The Stentor student newspaper at Chicago’s Lake Forest College launched an editorial comeback to the LFC administration’s recent decision to no longer employ the paper’s adviser.  The purported reason, as you might guess, is what the college president calls “budget stress.”  

Stentor staffers are not buying- citing a mega-huge, $17-million sports complex being erected on campus as proof that the decision is not based on stress as much as priorities.  They equate the expendability with which the school views the adviser as possibly the first step in a slow picking-apart of the student media outlet, leaving it to suffer a worse fate than even some of the hardest-hit professional j-operations: 

Perhaps, at this point, given our track record of pushing the accepted boundaries to offer our readers real news, the College administrators don’t want The Stentor to be anything more than a stack of press releases disguised as a newspaper.  And if that’s how they want the 122-year-old Stentor to shut down, they will have dismantled our operation to the point that they will get exactly that.  This isn’t how the Rocky Mountain News and Post-Intelligencer died.   This is worse.

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Why are j-students avoiding the economy?  In an interesting new piece for MediaShift, Center for Innovation in College Media director Bryan Murley laments about the lack of coverage in collegemediatopia focused on the global economic implosion and those affected by it:

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[W]hile much of the professional media has mobilized to cover the crisis, the response by college media hasn’t been as encouraging. . . . Over the past week, I’ve surfed a ton of college media websites looking for innovative ways these journalists were telling the biggest story of their generation. And I’ve mostly come up empty.

He mentions that the expected reports are present: the can’t-nobody-get-a-job-in-that-there-real-world pieces and the let’s-avoid-the-real-world-and-stay-in-grad-school enrollment spiking stories. (I’d add numerous pieces I’ve seen on school endowments plummeting and those on admissions offices contemplating how low tuition rates should go to ensure students can afford to enroll.)

But why are student outlets generally shying away from providing news and views on the meltdown to end all meltdowns?

Two theories, both with holes, for the sake of discussion:

1) Economic stories are hard. They involve numbers and stuff. As a student reporter, it took me a semester just to learn lede writing and to gather the courage to talk to people.  Is it possible actually mastering a beat as complex as all-things-financial represents a knowledge base and skills set beyond the means of many j-students? (Or maybe they are not up for taking the time and expending the effort to learn?)

2) Re: Relevance. The cliche no-jobs-for-soon-to-be-grads stories are run so often because, frankly, it is the most relevant issue to students. Do students truly view the larger impact of the economic woes as the issue of their generation? Or is it something they see as a mess their parents or older siblings are going through?

Murley has definitely identified an interesting trend. What do you think are the causes behind it?

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The student media have long been viewed as the beating hearts of higher education, pulsing at the center of nearly every first-rate university worldwide.  At the University of Kansas, trouble is brewing at this heart, in the form of a possible reduction or elimination of student media fees- fees that support the operating budgets and lifebloods of a number of student press outlets.

Among organizations and outlets that would be affected, either literally left for dead or just permanently “able to limp along” without funding from the fees: The Daily Kansan, KJHK campus radio (30,000 Lawrence-area listeners), a filmworks group, and a student literary magazine.

An editorial in The Kansan expresses understanding for the current bleak-ified economic outlook, but implores the student senate to reconsider:

[S]lashing the student media fee is a misguided solution that will result in fewer services from student media organizations, possible student job losses and a long-term reduction in student hiring by the organizations that receive money from the fee. . . [It would] also greatly damage the ability to provide news coverage to the student body as a whole.

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UWIRE provides a nice roundup of recent campus newspaper staff/print edition downsizing, providing briefs and links to full stories about cutbacks at a dozen student papers across the U.S.   As the intro reports: “All over the country, university newspapers are scaling back to accommodate flagging funds, from slashing staff to going online.”

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Great list (and CMM appreciates the public hat tip).  The funniest part was the subject line of the e-mail in which the list was included along with a number of other articles (part of a regular story digest sent by UWIRE): “College papers face downturn; Rampant herpes ruining pong?”  Campus media fallout and an unbridled STI epidemic- nothing like being a modern college student!

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Separately (and we in collegemediatopia hope it stays that way), here is an excellent, albeit bittersweet video on Vimeo documenting the final days of The Rocky Mountain News, which just ceased printing in Denver.  Will we all be watching similar vids for student papers one day?  (Here’s a related story about the local j-student reaction.)

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Final Edition

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Who or what is truly to blame for the economic toil and trouble in collegemediatopia?

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A Daily Princetonian report notes that a number of student-run publications at the university are in various states of financial duress, the editor of one noting that the staff was “scrambling to accrue ad revenue.”  The four main reasons cited by the article:

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1) Economic collapse

2) Advertising woes affecting print publications worldwide

3) Small audience size of many student media

4) Mismanagement of funds/lack of an advertising push by the student editorial or marketing teams

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I personally think the last item in the list gets far too little attention as being a root cause of the current “cash crunch.”   Obviously the first two have exacerbated the problem, and the third is a given.  But for every major student media outlet sporting a general manager and a hundred-thousand-dollar budget, there are tens of thousands of smaller outlets run by students with nary an interest or iota of experience in advertising or marketing.  (I know this firsthand, because I served as the editor of one such student outlet during my undergrad days.)

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As the well-written Princetonian piece states:

Many campus publications . . . have a limited audience and are poorly run, scaring off potential donors from contributing and businesses from placing advertisements. The economic downturn, he explained, has only revealed the bad habits of those who run the publications.  “Usually, it’s poor management on the part of the publication staff,” [said one Princeton student media head].  “By and large, they don’t know how to go about getting the most quality for the least cost and don’t operate with cutting costs in mind.”

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As I wrote in early October, “The story of the student press so far this semester: The existence of the first sustained crack in college print papers’ seeming invincibility to the online takeover and economic downturn.”

 

Since then, the economy has continued to collapse faster than Amy Winehouse’s career, prompting an unprecedented ad-revenue slowdown and a cost-cutting mentality at some student papers nationwide, according to a new Daily Princetonian report.

 

With the “bottom dropping out of the economy,” as the business manager of The Daily Pennsylvanian put it, the biggest disappearance from the ad blitz of times past’ has been financial and consulting companies, who typically place advertisements in papers prior to appearing on campus to recruit students.  Stanford Daily business manager and COO: “There’s a huge gap between last fall and this fall.  Last fall we had all these recruiters for advertising.”

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Examples of cutbacks that papers have instituted or are considering due to the ad gaps: The Daily Northwestern is publishing “smaller papers with fewer pages because we don’t have advertising revenue to support our editorial news hole”; and The Indiana Daily Student is “looking at ways to economize in every area,” including staff pay rates and the paper’s travel budget.

 

Interestingly, The Daily Tar Heel continues to be a voice of optimism.  The DTH general manager notes that increased political advertising from the recent campaign season and current reader interest in men’s basketball puts the paper in “a unique position here to do better than some of our buddies.”  This echoes earlier statements about the paper’s financial robustness.

 

Aside from the DTH, is college papers’ current pessimism a sign that the end is growing ever-nearer for their print news products?  As I’ve stated before, I don’t think so.  This latest report and the in-the-red reality it presents for some papers is simply proof that college newspapers are not immune from the economic doom and gloom.  When an Obama-fied economy (hopefully) bounces back, the financial companies’ recruiting efforts and related ads will return, something The New York Times notes this morning is in the recruiters’ best interests.  And in turn, hopefully student papers’ ad-revenue stream will return to the black.

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