Letter: Independent college newspapers have been hit hard

Letter to Romenesko

From DAN REIMOLD: As someone who lives, breathes, teaches, advises, and blogs about college media, here is my answer to your question at the end of [this post about The Daily Texan’s losses]: The Daily Texan is not alone in its financial free-fall. A growing number of student papers are struggling with their bottom lines. USA Today recently called it a “financial pinch.” I think it’s more like a hard slap or a second-degree burn.

For years, student newspapers have been immune from the financial downturn plaguing the professional press, thanks to their lack of overhead, the support of their schools, advertisers’ love of the student market, and their need to only break even. But those days are over.

The hardest-hit segment at the moment is comprised of the daily papers that operate independently as their own businesses. Some have cut the number of days they publish each week. Others have reduced the number of pages they print or their page sizes. Many are pulling back on staff pay and perks like conference travel. A few have appealed directly to students and alums for funding help through letters and front-page editorials. Still others have aligned with Press+ to request donations from everyone who visits the papers’ websites. A few papers have even gone dark entirely, mostly at smaller schools or community colleges in which related journalism programs have also been shuttered due to state funding cuts.

Students are still reading their campus newspapers in print, by all accounts at a reliable, surprisingly high rate. But advertising is tougher to come by. Related school budgets in some cases are tightening or disappearing entirely. Student governments are getting occasionally restless as they look at papers’ financials. And the seemingly inevitable shift toward digital-first or online-only publishing looms large in many editors’ and advisers’ minds.

If not quite a time of financial reckoning within the campus press, we have definitely entered a prolonged period of profound change — cutbacks, weary sighs, and hopefully some spirited reinventions.