Many college newspapers experience economic hardships

For many students, waking up and grabbing the latest edition of the Scout on Friday mornings has become habit.
But at universities across the country, this privilege is becoming less common.
“The decision to suspend Friday publication was based on a tighter than normal budget,” said Samantha Zilai, editor-in-chief of the Ball State Daily News. “Readership is still alive and well.”
Ball State is one of many schools that has been forced to scale down its paper.
New York University, Syracuse University, University of Minnesota and the Universities of California at Davis and Berkeley are among others that have had to make changes. Such changes include reducing or eliminating staff pay or members, eliminating certain days of print and cutting or combining sections.
Middle Tennessee State University’s paper may even be moved entirely online.
Although the Scout appears to be safe for now, it functions mostly through ad sales, which often decline or can be unpredictable in a faltering economy, assistant advertising professor Maha Bashri said.
“Advertising takes a nose dive when economies are down because purchasing power by consumers is down,” she said. “People tend to have less money to spend therefore they buy less – in consequence advertising suffers.”
Zilai said this is what happened at Ball State.
“Many Muncie citizens are unemployed and therefore unable to spend money at businesses,” she said. “The businesses in turn have smaller budgets, and finally the businesses don’t have enough money to buy advertisements. It’s really just a big, vicious circle that should be corrected as soon as the economy picks back up.”
Richard Proctor, editor-in-chief of The California Aggie, also cited ad declines as a reason for his paper’s cutbacks.
“Online institutions like Craigslist.com are affecting normally strong aspects of newspaper revenue, like classifieds,” he said. “Print media on the whole is declining, thanks in part to the ready availability of news on the Internet. Whichever newspaper set the trend of providing their content for free online did the entire industry a disservice with their complete lack of foresight.”
Executive Director for Student Involvement Greg Killoran said if Scout ad sales declined, the university would try to support the paper, but nothing can be promised in today’s economy.
“The Scout is important, because it’s the number one way students and staff find out the news of the campus,” he said. “It’s no less important than it is to have the Peoria Journal Star or Chicago Tribune. We’re a small community, and it’s our voice.”
Although papers such as The California Aggie and Ball State Daily News are still publishing news everyday online, online readership tends to be much lower.
Articles on the Scout’s Web site last week registered an average of less than 28 hits each.
“My feeling is that students read the newspaper – the actual newspaper,” Killoran said. “It’s just a part of campus life. The Scout comes out on Friday – people look forward to it. I’m not sure if that same readership would exist online.”
Because the Scout is a weekly, its options to scale down are also more limited.
“If we had unlimited ad revenue I’d think we’d see a 32- or 36-page paper,” Killoran said. “We don’t have an option for fewer days unless we want to be less than a weekly, but we can cut pages out.”
Proctor said students have been understanding of his paper’s cutbacks, and many aren’t on campus on Fridays anyway.
“Students have generally been supportive of our situation and understand that the newspaper is not doing well financially,” he said. “People do miss their Friday crossword and Sudoku, though.”