Time to Wake Up: Independent Student Newspapers are Struggling Financially

Student newspapers are struggling financially.  The decade-long plights of the professional press have at last weaved their way into the land of collegemediatopia.  If not quite a time of reckoning for some campus papers, we have definitely entered a prolonged period of profound change– cutbacks, weary sighs, and hopefully some spirited reinventions.

That is the gist of what I told Connecticut Post reporter Linda Lambeck late last week when contacted for a quote.  She was wrapping up a story on the financial woes of The Daily Campus at UCONN, and the paper’s attempt to add needed funding through a slight rise in student fees.  (In a campus-wide vote, students rejected the proposal.)

As part of the piece, Lambeck wanted a wider-angle view on the economic dilemmas of student papers nationwide.  Below is the response I sent her, a statement I feel needs to be taken as a wake-up call for the j-students, j-profs, and advisers swearing everything is still status quo or A-OK.

A Boot Camp of Sorts

My Take on the Current Financial Status of the Student Press

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.  A growing number of student papers are struggling financially.

The hardest-hit segment at the moment are 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.  A small amount have launched magazines in hopes of broadening their readership and ad appeal.  Still others have aligned with a service that requests donations from all readers who visit 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’ financial bottom lines.  And the seemingly inevitable shift toward digital-first publishing looms large in many editors’ and advisers’ minds.

At a recent major college media conference in New York City, a pair of student newspaper advisers spoke in a packed-house session about the opportunities and challenges of becoming an online-only news outlet.  The close of the session description in the program stated plainly why attendees should stop by: “[B]ecause your newspaper will probably have to consider it eventually.”

Student editors’ financial battles might be a boot camp of sorts for what they will face after graduation.  Or the troubles might be a blessing in disguise, motivating members of the young, mobile, and wireless generation to step up and help reinvent, truly reinvent, journalism.

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  1. […] I noted in a post late last month, student newspapers are struggling financially.  The decade-long plights of the professional press […]