Daily Northwestern: “Dying” or About to Rebound, Reinvent?

In 1923, Time magazine began publication.  The first portable radio was developed.  The Walt Disney Company was founded.  And a certain student newspaper at a certain lakeside university in Illinois went independent.

The Daily Northwestern has since enjoyed an almost-unparalleled journalistic renaissance.  Today, it stands as one of the most prolific, trusted, and iconic presences within all of collegemediatopia.  And amid a growing base of complementers and competitors on its own campus (NBN, NAR, NBR, Al Bayan, Stitch, Schmooze, Northwestern Chronicle, et al.), it remains NU’s journalistic gold standard.

Its independence is the core of its existence and the basis for its editorial success.  Is it now one of the reasons for a dramatic level of financial duress? A new investigative report argues the Daily Northwestern‘s entirely advertising-reliant business model- free from school funding of any sort- has left it in need of a shake-up and bailout.

The start-up news and culture webzine NU Intel reports that the DN’s non-profit parent company is running a dangerously high deficit, prompting concern among its overseeing board: “Charles Whitaker, a Medill professor and the chair of SPC’s Board of Directors, confesses he’s starting to lose sleep thinking about how to keep the Daily afloat. ‘At our last board meeting in March, it was pretty clear that the train was heading for the cliff, and that something’s going to have to be done,’ he says. . . . The question is, ‘Why is the Daily losing money?'”

According to the Intel investigation, the biggest reasons for the major revenue decline in recent years have been the craptacular advertising market and a rapid drop in the investment portfolio value of the DN parent company (of course both linked to the larger economic quagmire drowning us all).  Subsequently, stipends for the DN staff are shrinking, even as they apparently express a “willful ignorance” about the paper’s financial precariousness.

The Intel: The newspaper’s “survival is largely contingent on what-ifs and the expectation that yesterday’s business model is also tomorrow’s. The Daily is in need of a life preserver, and the stopgap measures aren’t true solutions, just piecemeal attempts to stanch the bleeding.”

The report describes cost cuts down to losing candy purchases at Halloween; a fundraising effort aimed at DN alumni; a search for relevant grants and other outside funding; and a look internally to the school from which the paper separated itself 87 years ago.

Straight-up university funding?  A more indirect channeling of money through a student activities fee? There are numerous possibilities, but they of course have the potential to tamper with the newspaper’s independence and identity.

Toward the end of the piece, the Intel reporter paraphrases what might soon be on NU administrators’ minds: “Is the Daily just another student media outlet, or something more important?” Or in other words: Is the newspaper worth saving?  DN staffers interviewed for the piece express hope of a rebound.  They are confident the paper will reinvent along with the rest of journalism.  And as the comments section under the report especially indicates, they take issue (at times rightfully) with some of the Intel‘s sinking-ship conclusions.

My questions, upon reading the piece: Is this an unrelated situation, or is the Daily just another student media outlet?  Is the potential school “bailout” a sign of surrender or a new reality needing to be embraced?  And most intriguing, is the student journalism renaissance over?

4 Responses to “Daily Northwestern: “Dying” or About to Rebound, Reinvent?”
  1. college.reporter.intern says:

    I certainly hope that they save their paper; it provides the educational benefit of on-the-job experience. I’ve spoken to many editors and reporters who have told me the value of working for a daily school paper for gaining experience and clips.

    My school’s daily, which I write for, is supported by student fees and ads. However, the paper run by students and frequently publishes stories critical of the administration. Despite these subsidies, it too is in not good financial straits. I hope the Northwestern’s situation and our own improve over time.

    -a college sophomore who writes for the a university newspaper and interns at a local paper

  2. “And amid a growing base of complementers and competitors on its own campus (NBN, NAR, NBR, Al Bayan, Stitch, Schmooze, Northwestern Chronicle, et al.), it remains NU’s journalistic gold standard.”

    Now, excuse me if I’m wrong, because I’m a little fuzzy. But which NU publication just won a national SPJ? NBN, I think?

    Now remind me which one didn’t even place? Oh, the Daily?


  3. Dan says:

    Thank you both for your comments. The latter especially deserves kudos, snarkiness and all. :) My respect for NBN is immense. I’ve interviewed and know several current and former staffers. If I had to choose the most exciting, transformative NU j-outlet over the past few years, NBN would certainly be it. And your point about the SPJ national award has merit. That written though, I do think NBN must prove it can continue to operate at the high level it has established for itself over a longer period for it to truly earn ‘the gold standard of NU journalism’ label. That is not a diss, it is a recognition of reality: That’s a HUGE distinction, the sort of long-term reputational achievement that takes years and perseverance. In the meantime, be assured, j-people are paying attention to NBN and recognize its awesomeness.

  4. You're kidding says:

    Excuse me if I’m wrong, “Journalism, huh,” but when’s the last time NBN did an actual news story of importance, with interviews (plural, not singular) and evidence of some editing? When’s the last time it covered anything related to sports?

    And did the Daily even enter the SPJ competition?