COLIN LIKAS | Editor-in-Chief
The Butler Collegian is struggling financially—along with other school newspapers and the nation’s newspaper industry—and is searching for new business models and revenue streams.
Changes in technology and the recent recession have resulted in advertising revenue falling from a high of $42,000 seven years ago to a new low of less than $20,000 last year.
In the midst of this upheaval, Butler University has cut direct funding support by more than 50 percent, from a high of $22,000 13 years ago to just under $9,700 last academic year, leading to several years of budget shortfalls.
During this time, the university’s expectation for advertising and subscription revenue increased $12,000, leading to several consecutive years of shortfalls.
Last year’s shortfall totaled nearly $30,000.
“I don’t think there have been any conversations in the president’s cabinet or the executive council about the funding of The Collegian because it just hasn’t risen to that level,” Butler President James Danko said.
Even with these financial pressures, The Collegian received national recognition for editorial quality: a 2011 ACP Pacemaker Award and the 2012 Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
Dan Cooreman (’76), an editor of The New York Times Sunday Business section, served as The Collegian’s editor in chief his senior year. He said he feels the university is handling the support of The Collegian’s budget shortfall incorrectly.
“My feeling is that Butler should be celebrating its champions, not cutting them back,” Cooreman said. “You guys are champions, and you work as hard on what you’re doing as anyone else in any extracurricular activity.”
The Collegian brought in approximately $18,600 through print and online advertising fees last year, according to Collegian records. Subscriptions, at $45 per academic year, numbered 43 last year, bringing in less than $2,000.
While producing revenue has been a struggle for The Collegian, producing enough to offset its costs has been even more difficult.
The Collegian’s largest expenses are student salaries and printing costs. Last year, student pay amounted to around $26,000 while printing costs totaled $23,000.
To combat costs, The Collegian has made changes. A decision was made this summer to cut all staff members’ wages in half this school year. The editor in chief makes $38 per week, while staff reporters and photographers earn $7.50 per assignment.
The Collegian also cut the number of newspapers printed from 2,600 a week two years ago to 1,500 a week this year.
The Daily Reporter in Greenfield prints The Collegian at an initial cost of $630 per week. The Collegian puts out 26 issues per academic year.
In addition, The Collegian staff cut food costs on Monday deadline nights. Last year, The Collegian spent more than $1,100 on food. This year, through a deal with the Broad Ripple Jimmy John’s restaurant, Jimmy John’s provides staff with sandwiches and potato chips every Monday night in exchange for a half-page ad in each issue.
The Collegian loses an varying amount of advertising revenue each school year due to meal deals done with local restaurants and businesses.
David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, said the evolution of journalism has created difficulties for news print publications.
“The journalism industry is going through a lot of change right now,” Cullier said. “That’s whether you’re a commercial news operation or a student operation—(you’re) trying to figure out how to monetize it.”
Indianapolis Star associate editor Russ Pulliam, whose family donated $5 million in 2000 to create the Eugene S. Pulliam School of Journalism and to help build the Fairbanks Building, said collegiate and professional newspapers have struggled to produce consistent revenue in recent years.
“Our funding is running out in the news media that I work in—from advertising—and we’re having to find other ways to pay for both personnel and distribution,” Pulliam said. “If your funding runs out, you go find other funding. That’s what we’ve always found in journalism.”
POTENTIAL FUNDING SOURCES
The Collegian does not receive any money from the $288 student fee paid by Butler students each school year.
The New York Times’ Cooreman said he feels there “needs to be a fee from somewhere for a basic student voice on campus.”
The Star’s Pulliam said the student newspaper at his alma mater Williams College in Massachusetts received a fee from each student when he was enrolled there.
The Society for Professional Journalists’ Cuillier said he feels it is worthwhile for students to pay a student fee or subscription fee for their school’s newspaper. The University of Arizona’s Daily Wildcat receives $3 a student per semester from student fees, according to Cuillier.
Craig Fisher, Butler’s Student Government Association president, said about $190 of each individual’s student fee goes to SGA.
Fisher said that could change with a recommendation by SGA and subsequent approval by the SGA Assembly as well as Butler’s Student Affairs office and the Board of Trustees.
Fisher said it would be “The Collegian’s call” if it wished to seek funding from the student fee, adding that he was aware of the “worthy priority of being unbiased” tied to such a decision.
“I think (giving a portion of the student fee to The Collegian) would probably be welcomed as long as we work out the logistics,” the SGA president said.
“It is a student newspaper, so it is benefitting the students,” Fisher continued. “It’s an important tradition at Butler. And I think it’s one worth continuing in any way that we can.”
Robert Marcus, Butler’s financial planning and budgeting executive director, said The Collegian also can look to one of three sources for “budget relief.”
The first option is to appeal to the College of Communication for permanent funding. Marcus said last year’s CCOM budget was $2.7 million, and that this year’s is $2.9 million. A majority of the budget goes to faculty salaries, Marcus said.
“The College of Communication really cannot (permanently fund The Collegian),” Marcus said. “They do not have a lot of spare money lying around.”
Gary Edgerton, CCOM dean, said the college will always help The Collegian in any way it can.
“We support The Collegian as much as we can in the same way it has been supported in the past,” Edgerton said. “I think that what you should think about in terms of what’s happening with The Collegian is what’s happening in the journalism world in general.”
Edgerton said some college and university newspapers “are simply doing it entirely on the web now,” which results in “less of a cost.”
The second option is requesting shortfall coverage be funded by the provost’s office.
“The provost does have some contingency dollars and flexibility,” Marcus said, “but also just a huge amount of need and competing needs.”
The provost’s office previously provided funding to help cover The Collegian’s shortfalls but has provided no funding the last two years.
Provost Kathryn Morris was unavailable to comment for the story.
The third option for funding is looking at the university in general to fill the budget shortfall.
For university funding, the president’s cabinet looks at needs, available funding and Butler’s strategic plan.
“If (a group’s need) is found to be meritorious, (the university) fund(s) it permanently, and the problem goes away,” Marcus said. “If not, the problem stays. The last four or five years, we’ve been sitting on (The Collegian’s budget shortfall).
“I think, basically, between the college and the provost, they’ve found a way to fund it. But no one has come forward to say, ‘We’ve found a way to fund it permanently.’”
Danko said he is not worried about covering The Collegian’s shortfall.
“I don’t know what serious point in finances we’re at with The Collegian, but I suspect we’re able to take care of it,” Danko said. “I don’t look at this as a significant obstacle in terms that we could keep this thing viable.”
A budget shortfall of nearly $30,000 remained after university funding was provided each of the past two years. This shortfall was covered by the School of Journalism.
“I think one thing (The Collegian can do) is create cuts where you can, show the university you’re doing what you can (to reduce budget shortfall),” said The New York Times’ Cooreman, the former Collegian editor in chief.
“But I think there’s still a responsibility of the university to keep its student newspaper going.”