Due to Budget Cuts, Student Newspaper at Missouri College May Go Online-Only

The Columns student newspaper at Westminster College may be forced to drop staff pay and stop printing starting next fall due to budget cuts being imposed by the Student Government Association.

The SGA at the liberal arts school in Fulton, Mo., is apparently facing its own financial woes, forcing tough decisions on a variety of student programs and groups. As the paper’s adviser Maureen Tuthill tells the Columbia Daily Tribune, “SGA’s budget was cut massively, and they’re dealing with some difficult situations, which we completely sympathize with. We’re just trying to figure out a way to stay alive.”

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Staying alive may mean a rebirth as an online-only outlet. The paper does not appear to currently maintain its own website. A Google search leads to a school-hosted summary site containing a PDF of a 2011 issue.

Separately, to stay alive the Columns 2.0 might also need to be staged as a formal class endeavor rather than a campus organization. The switch would mean some staffers currently earning money for their editorial efforts would instead need to pay to enroll in a course, earning credits while producing the paper.

Westminster’s student government president: “They didn’t used to get paid. If they want to be a journalist, they can do it through school. I understand that they want to be paid.” School officials stress the paper’s editorial independence would not be sacrificed in a classroom setting and the current adviser would oversee the course.

According to the Daily Tribune, in respect to budget priorities amid the needed cuts: “The Student Government Association’s budget also omitted the college’s $3,500 readership program, which supplied newspapers such as The New York Times and USA TODAY to campus. Cuts also were made to all four class funds, each of which previously received $1,000. Funds for ‘concerts and comedy,’ ‘late night programming’ and funds that pay SGA staff members were among those that went untouched in the most recent draft.”

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An online petition calling for “continued full SGA funding” of the paper currently boasts 163 signatures. One signee who identifies himself as a former Columns editor writes on the petition page, “The experience taught me more than perhaps any class at Westminster ever did. I learned the true meaning of hard work and long night, how to keep a deadline, how to work together with others, how to succeed. To take it away would be robbing others of the amazing experience that I had. Not to mention, a college with a journalism degree and no newspaper makes zero sense. This is something mediocre public high schools manage to find money for. But not a private liberal arts university.”

A separate editorial in the Fulton Sun local newspaper supporting the Columns and campus readership program argues:

“Newspapers are a valuable tool for any community. Newspapers provide a source of unbiased information about how taxes — or in the case of college, fees — are spent, how elected or appointed leaders paid by those public funds are doing business and the overall state of the community. … Newspapers also tell the story of the community — through features and personality profiles, they highlight the good things happening in the community. The Columns is important for preserving that on the Westminster College campus. The Columns newspaper is also good real-world skills for everyone involved. … Working for a student newspaper teaches responsibility, meeting deadlines, collaborating with others and communication skills. Students who work at small college newspapers often go on to successful careers outside the media industry — with a greater edge on the aforementioned skills. It’s also good real-world experience for others on campus. It’s good for Student Government Association members to learn to interact with the media.”

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