If the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees denies a request for a student fee increase, the school could lose its printed student newspaper by Fall 2014, according to the newspaper’s editor-in-chief.
As is the case with newspapers almost everywhere, the century old UConn student paper is in dire financial straits. In a column published by the Huffington Post on Monday, Daily Campus Editor-In-Chief Melanie Deziel wrote that the paper “could cease to be in a few years.” Deziel encouraged students to vote “yes” in a referendum last week to increase fees by $3 per semester. The fee increase would help offset a decline in ad revenue in recent years, according to Deziel.
Students defeated the referendum last week, voting 54 to 46 percent to maintain student fees at their current level of $7 per semester. The fee has not been increased since the late 1990s.
According to financial documents on the UConn’s website, 70 percent of the paper’s funding comes from student fees and 30 percent comes from advertising revenue.
For the past several years, Deziel explained, the paper has been running deficits of between $30,000 and $60,000 annually, and has been pulling money out of a surplus “fund balance” to make up the difference. At the current rate of declining advertising revenue, the paper will be out of money by Fall 2014, according to Deziel.
The referendum is not binding, but the results typically hold significant sway with the Student Fee Advisory Committee. The committee will soon make a recommendation to the university’s chief financial officer and provost, who will then make a recommendation to the board of trustees. The trustees will have the final say over whether the Daily Campus will get more funding from student fees.
Deziel said she was “extremely shocked” that students voted against the fee increase, especially given the results of a recent poll in which she said 99.2 percent of students identified the Daily Campus as the campus newspaper of record, and 75 percent of students reported reading the paper at least once a week.
David Zebrowski, a sophomore enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said he voted “no” on the referendum question.
“I appreciate the opportunity it gives to journalism majors and students who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to publish their writing,” Zebrowski said. But he thinks the paper should try cutting its circulation or finding another way to save money.
“[Students] throw out hundreds of them every day. They can be really wasteful,” Zebrowski said.
Patrick O’Brien, a senior business student, said he voted “yes.”
O’Brien said he reads the Daily Campus in the morning before going to class.
“There’s something about the fact that it’s written by my peers that’s really appealing. I like to know what my peers are thinking about and writing about,” he said.
O’Brien said he gets most of his news from The Daily Campus, Reddit and The Daily Show. He frequently reads the stories from the Associated Press, which are published carried in The Daily Campus.
Sen. President Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said that the Daily Campus provides a valuable news source to his constituents.
Williams holds a journalism degree from Syracuse University and once hosted a morning news program on WINY radio in Putnam.
“We don’t have all that many colleges and universities left in the United States operating daily newspapers. It does provide important experience in terms of researching and reporting,” he said.
The fight to save the paper goes on, Deziel said, despite the setback.
“Our plan now is we’ve got to work on making sure that all those people involved are aware of the value that the paper has for this campus,” she said. “Were talking about content that reflects how hard we work.”
Deziel added that while no contingency plan has been established for the possibility that the trustees will deny the fee increase, current editors are discussing the possibility of cutting wages.
The paper’s editors are currently paid between $8.40 and $16.25 an hour, with caps placed on how many hours a student can be paid per week, ranging between five and 15 hours.
Writers also get between $10 and $12 per story, based on seniority.
Deziel wrote in the Huffington Post that the paper already has cut costs by $100,000 since 2005, and that further cuts will adversely effect the quality of the paper.
The paper is advised by its a board of directors, which is a nine-member body tasked with providing professional guidance, while the students make primary financial decisions. The board of directors is made up of the paper’s student leadership, a representative from the UConn journalism department, Daily Campus alumni, and a representative from the university’s Student Activities department.
A review of the newspaper’s September 2011 profit and loss statement shows that they spent $33,114 on printing, but the document did not clarify a length of time or number of Daily Campus editions associated with that figure. The paper is printed by the Willimantic Chronicle, but a copy of the DC’s printing contract was not made available. The publisher of the Chronicle did not return calls seeking comment about an annual dollar figure for printing expenses.
In Spring 2010, the paper cut its daily printed circulation from 10,000 to 8,500, and Deziel said that cutting circulation much more would make the paper less attractive to advertisers, entering the realm of diminishing returns.
The Daily Campus also pays at least $10,332 per year for subscription and membership fees, including use of content from The Associated Press.
Deziel defended that cost, saying students appreciate being able to read a broad variety of news in their student paper.
Because the paper is not allowed to solicit outside money on its own, editors at the paper have been working through the UConn Foundation to establish a fund specifically for the paper.
The newspaper has faced financial difficulties in the past.
In 2002, the university administration asked that the paper submit its annual budgets for review by a committee of the student activities department. The paper refused, citing concerns about the loss of editorial integrity, according to a Courant report.
The Courant also reported a year later that a university-appointed committee decided that the school had been too lax in its supervision of the paper’s operations, and said that the paper’s poor financial management could have exposed it to legal action.
The Daily Campus is now subject to annual audits by the university administration and a representative from UConn now sits on the paper’s board of directors.
The trustees are expected to make a decision by the end of the current semester.
“I’m hoping that the students and the trustees work out whatever steps are necessary to keep it going,” Williams said.
Joseph Adinolfi contributed to this report.