Thu, 21 Jan 2021

Student Newspapers Face Real World Challenges

Voice of America
14 Jan 2020, 22:05 GMT+10

The Daily Orange isn't daily anymore.

The student-run newspaper has covered Syracuse University since 1903 and trained generations of journalists, but it now prints just three issues per week.

Editor-in-chief Haley Robertson said she is looking for advertisers, worries about firing friends who work as staff, and searches for alumni donors who will pay to send reporters on the road to cover the university's sports teams.

These problems are similar to those faced by executives two or three times her age -- evidence of how the news industry's woes have seeped onto campuses. The schools are trying to harness youthful energy and idealism to turn out professionals who can inform the world, according to the Associated Press, which reported this story about student journalists in a recent article.

"When I look at local news and see what's happening, I'm pessimistic,'' said Kathleen Culver, journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "When I look at 18- and 20-year-olds and see what they want to do, I'm optimistic.''

Despite the challenges and an uncertain future, the student journalists continue to hone their craft, one story at a time. According to the AP, enrollment in journalism programs is up, and suggested that frequent attacks on the press have given birth to a new resolve. It was an apparent reference to President Donald Trump, whom the article did not mention by name. Trump has denounced the news media as an enemy that produces what he has termed "fake news."

Learning by doing

Thousands of young journalists train in classrooms and in student-run newsrooms. For college student Robertson, that means hours a day in a dingy office with yellowed headlines glued to the wall, metal file cabinets signed by editors dating back nearly 50 years and a ripped upholstered couch carried from The Daily Orange's old office, which is now the site of a parking lot.

Occasionally, college publications like The Daily Orange make national news by breaking news. In 2018, the paper first posted video of racist and sexist comments made at a Syracuse fraternity, leading to embarrassing headlines for the university across the country. Daily Orange managing editor Catherine Leffert sat on the floor at a campus meeting as that story developed, tapping out updates on her mobile phone, and slept on the office couch in two-hour intervals. The fraternity was suspended, AP reports.

"What keeps me wanting to be a journalist and wanting to do it here is seeing the effect that The Daily Orange has. It's really cool and exciting," said Leffert as she acknowledged that seeing layoffs and newsroom cutbacks "was really disheartening."

Last year, Arizona State University's student newspaper, The State Press, was the first outlet in the United States with word of the resignation of Kurt Volker, U.S. envoy to Ukraine. Volker runs Arizona State's McCain Institute for International Leadership.

Cutting up the paper

Thirty-five percent of school papers say they have reduced the frequency of print issues to save money, according to a College Media Association (CMA) survey taken back in 2019, said Chris Evans, CMA president and adviser to the University of Vermont newspaper, to the AP.

Five percent have gone online only, as the University of Maryland's The Diamondback said that it would do early next year. Half of the newspapers that haven't abandoned publications like The Daily Orange, said they are not printing as many copies.

Robertson touts the transition as a way to follow the industry by going digital, and The Daily Orange has an active website and social media presence.

The University of North Carolina's The Daily Tar Heel switched to publishing three days a week in 2017, when its directors realized they were going broke, said Maddy Arrowood, the paper's editor-in-chief. The newspaper cut the pay of staff members and moved into a new, smaller office above a restaurant.

"I spend most of my time very aware of our financial situation,'' Arrowood said. "We're always trying to tell the newsroom that your goal is to produce the best content that you can and be an indispensable resource for our readers.''

Last year, The Daily Tar Heel reported a tiny profit.

Struggling with a $280,000 debt, The Hilltop at Howard University printed its first edition this semester in mid-October. The Maneater at the University of Missouri used to print twice a week, then once. Now it's down to once a month. It operates separately from a newspaper staffed by faculty and students in the university journalism school.

Staff members are now charged annual dues, said Leah Glasser, the paper's editor. They can avoid the "dues" if they find an alumni sponsor or sell enough advertising to cover it. The paper has a website, and Glasser and her staff are slowly getting used to the new monthly schedule.

"It's so difficult to hear, 'We don't have enough money,''' she said. "We hear that a lot. As a generation, that doesn't make us turn around and go home.''

Newspaper jobs across the country sank from 52,000 in 2008 to 24,000 now, according to the University of North Carolina, AP reports.

Funding sources

Newspapers like The Daily Orange and The Daily Tar Heel don't take money from the university or fellow students, believing that to be a conflict of interest. Most publications do, however. Tammy Merrett, faculty adviser to The Alestle at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, doesn't know how her paper would survive without it.

In 2008, The Alestle's ad revenue was about $150,000 a year, aided by slick ads taken out by military recruiters, Planned Parenthood and local supermarkets. Now, the paper struggles to make $30,000 a year in ad sales.

"At some universities, they have to approach student government directly and ask for funds, and there have been some instances where student government doesn't like the coverage, so they deny it,'' Merrett said. "Luckily, that doesn't happen here.''

Amid the worries, North Carolina's Arrowood said her experience makes her more interested in a journalism career, not less. Her optimism "comes from knowing that people still need news, they still need information, and I've gotten to see that in a lot of ways,'' she said. "I'm willing to meet people where they are.

"What I want to do is still something that people need,'' she said.

With that, she cut the conversation short. Arrowood had a class to attend.

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