We know the newspaper industry has suffered since the dawn of electronic media, but odds are that the newspaper of your alma mater hasn’t escaped unscathed either. Our sustained economic downswing has made operations more difficult for small businesses in general, let alone those run by full-time, unpaid students working to keep their campuses informed. Whether your paper was a massive enterprise like The Harvard Crimson or small-time publication with a readership base of a few hundred, the college newspaper has seen better days.
My college newspaper, The Williams Record, has been far from exempt. We’ve covered our own fiscal difficulties in a series of articles explaining a deficit of several thousand dollars, dropping revenue, and troubles integrating the books between student and administrative files. As the editor-in-chief, I now have a greater responsibility to generate money in a decidedly bear market. The other editors and I have been hard at work for months making contacts, calls, and plans (a summer at LearnVest doesn’t hurt for gathering money-saving tips!). We think our strategies to get back in the black are just simple enough to work and generally applicable to other business ventures, too. Read on for an understanding of the industry and what you can do to give back to those pages from your coed years.
The Newspaper Depends On The College
College newspapers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are published daily, some weekly, some monthly. Some have faculty advisors, some are paid for by the college, some are integrated into the student editors’ class schedules. Some have websites. Some are a five-woman operation and others are staffed by an army of eager undergraduates. If you were involved in your paper, you might remember countless tedious hours spent fact-checking tenure decisions and eliminating unnecessary commas. It is, after all, largely a labor of love.
We’re Strategizing To Stay Afloat
Ours at Williams is an especially laborious romance. Our editorial board is composed of fewer than twenty people with a business board half that size, and as of the last academic year we exist in print due only to the grace of our bailout benefactors. And we’re far from the only ones—run down the list of America’s best newspapers or any of those college rankings, and you’ll find a slew of articles from editors reporting on their own financial difficulties.
Here are a few focuses of our strategy:
1. Keep Costs Down
We’ve been trimming down to barebones operations since the news of our dismal bank accounts first broke: We’ve taken on more personal labor, renegotiated pricing deals, optimized our printing load, and slashed our budget overall. We’ve also seriously skimped on office supplies.
2. Increase Advertising Revenue
Although the Record is involved in national advertising services, we have been lax in local advertising given our small-town circumstances. The recession heavily cut into our local advertising revenue, including even ads placed by academic departments that faced budget cuts. We are currently working to make our advertising rates attractive to local advertisers in order to meet their needs in our community. To rake in more ad money, however, we really need to…
3. Get More Subscribers
Along with several updates to our marketing strategy, we are looking to get wider readership—the Record is available to students for free on campus and online, and we want to maintain both services at least for the coming years. What newspapers like The New York Times don’t face is the peculiar subscription base of college papers, one that operates largely on a four-year revolving basis. We are working to make a subscription to the paper more appealing to parents and alums by soliciting for new subscribers more effectively and more often.
What You Can Do To Save Your Alma Mater's Paper
I’ve been working on the paper since my freshman fall, and I know we’re lucky to enjoy a strong Williams network that extends beyond the campus. If you fondly recall paging through the pages of that campus paper of yore, check out what options it offers for getting involved. Sign up for a subscription and peruse their website. If you’re looking to spend some funds on recruiting for your business, who better to target than the students of your college, and how better to do it than through the campus publication?
Also, I believe I can safely say we in the paper biz are all willing to accept donations from a charitable alumna: Your paper’s website will probably have directions for contributing, and this could even be a tax-deductable donation depending on your paper’s business model. Finally, if you’re on a tight budget, take a page from LearnVest’s guide to charitable acts and contact the editors of your paper with an offer to pass on relevant experience you have gained as a business professional. We would appreciate the service, especially as we fall behind on homework.
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