Proposals aimed at leading student media at the University of Utah into a financially viable future were outlined Friday to a media oversight group, with many of the ideas centering on the need for broader collaboration on campus.
Editors at The Daily Utah Chronicle, the school’s 123-year-old newspaper, were concerned prior to the meeting that the event, touting a student media “revolution,” would, in an era of rising printing costs, diminishing revenues and shrinking distribution, aim to decimate the paper.
But the meeting was largely void of such discussion, easing concerns that the newspaper’s place as an independent watchdog was at risk.
“We see it as more of an evolution than a revolution,” Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Emily Andrews told the crowd, which packed an auditorium in the school’s Language & Communication building. “We want to maintain to be a daily news organization. … That is really what we need to be.”
Note: City Weekly's managing editor, Rachel Piper, was editor-in-chief of the Chronicle from 2009-2010, and mentors the Chronicle's copy desk once a week.
In her presentation, Andrews and two Chronicle news editors laid out a number of proposals, some sweeping and others simple, that could help the paper, which officials say has run up a $68,000 deficit, march toward a more financially secure future.The Chronicle, the online radio station KUTE, and an advertising and publications wing called Absolute Communication are overseen by the Student Media Council. The council, made up of students, faculty and media professionals, has grappled with how best to adapt campus media to the digital age.
Andrews, who says she hopes to see the Chronicle remain a daily newspaper for as long as possible, acknowledged slashing the number of publishing days might come sooner rather than later. This year alone, Andrews says, she cut the budget by 30 percent, dashing employee stipends, carving into the travel budget and, most notably, knocking back the print run from 12,000 papers Monday through Thursday to 8,000, and from 10,000 on Friday to 6,000.
But some worry that, as circulation is sliced, advertisers will see less and less of a reason to put their dollars into the paper.
Jake Sorensen, director of Student Media, said campus media is facing a “resource challenge.”
“We have to find a better way to operate in a fiscally responsible way," he said. Sorensen said he wants the paper to adopt a “digital first” mentality, and hopes to see it grow into more of an online, 24/7 news source.
But if the Chronicle lags in any one place, it appears to be in the advertising sales department. Sorensen said five part-time students sell advertising. This makeup has altered over the years, he said, noting that in the past, there have been full-time, non-student sales people. Going back to this model, he said, would require an examination of whether these types of positions should be withheld from students who are looking to the jobs for educational opportunities.Andrews, who emphasized that her role as editor isn’t to seek new revenue streams but to manage the newsroom, said she intends to begin a BuzzFeed-like program called U-Feed in the coming weeks with the hopes that traffic to the paper’s website will increase. She says the paper could also consider unveiling a classified advertising section, like the service offered at KSL.com that would target the campus community.
And she said there’s a need for developing a more nimble advertising and graphic design arm that could help U professors and employees develop advertisements for classes and events. Andrews also said she’s willing to consider allowing “native” advertising, ads that look like news content but are clearly marked sponsored.
And she suggested producing a large spring edition, mailed out to every registered student, similar to the paper’s pre-fall-semester edition, which usually clocks in more than 64 pages and is a large source of revenue.
Down the road, Andrews said, the distribution points across campus
should be analyzed and, if needed, changed; not every page needs to be
splashed with color; and re-analyzing the rent paid to the Union building could free up some cash as well.
But although the impetus for the meeting seemed to be the Chronicle’s deficit, many proposals appeared to propose spending more.
Sorensen said he’d like to see more training for those in management, sales, marketing and, eventually, hold a summer retreat.
Will Hatton, who works at KUTE, said he’d like to see a TV station at the U. But more than anything, Hatton and others expressed hopes to see more collaboration between talented people all across the campus, in engineering and web design, for example, joining media-related efforts.
More than 20 former Chronicle staffers signed a letter to the Council, urging them to preserve the paper’s independence as it grapples with an uncertain media landscape.
“The Chronicle is part of the university’s ecosystem, and the return on investment that it offers the Student Media Council doesn’t end with the revenue it brings in,” the letter says. “The skills that students learn at the Chronicle—writing clearly and on a deadline, giving and receiving feedback, managing employees, balancing budgets—translate to many areas beyond journalism.”
And even with rigorous efforts to adopt a fleet of social media platforms, digital applications and multimedia tools, there are no guarantees of financial prosperity, the letter warns.
As a result, Andrews said, the most prudent way forward is building upon the strong traditions the Chronicle has already established, focusing on evolution, not revolution. “We need to build upon that legacy and build upon our past so that we know how to move into the future."