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MDDC-Area Student Media Fends Off Loss of Revenue, Independence

By T.C. Cameron

Some collegiate print publications are receiving a rude welcome to real world.

While professional, for-profit papers have been dealing it for more than a decade, student-led newspapers at America’s universities are trying to augment declining ad revenue and smaller readership with new revenue sources.

More and more, they are targeting student fees, according to a recent article at Inside Higher Ed by Allie Grasgreen.

Using student fees to fund a campus program is hardly an original idea. Most universities that don’t play football in front of 100,000 fans have long used student or activity fees to fund all sorts of programs. However, it’s fairly new for student media.

A survey of the MDDC region’s student-led media at the most prominent schools shows the national trend has not yet arrived, and student media is working hard to remain independent.

At the University of Maryland, the student-led Diamondback is completely autonomous from the university, said newly-minted editor in chief Mike King.

“We’ve been independent since 1971, when we ran a protest of the Vietnam War and the Board of Regents cut off our funding,” King said. “As far as I know, the Diamondback does not receive any monies from student fees, activities fees or university assistance. We don’t have many subscriptions because that’s not something we see much of anymore. Most of our revenue comes from advertising.”

King, 20, is from Elkton and took the reins of the Diamondback last Sunday. He says he hasn’t heard from anyone representing the university or the paper’s parent company, Maryland Media, Inc., a nonprofit company, regarding using student fees.

“I think our editorial freedom is worth a lot,” King said. “We struggle with turnover because we’re a student newspaper, but I’m holding out hope that we can become more profitable with both our print and online ad product. We really are trying to pump up our online advertising, because that’s where the future is.”

The newspaper boasts 15 editors and 50 staff writers. Every position at the Diamondback is a paid position.

Jonathan Munshaw, the newly-appointed editor of Towson University’s student paper, the Towerlight, said his paper remains independent from any school support via an emailed statement.

“We are actually independent from the University, and do no use any student fees,” Munshaw said. “Everything that we use to run our paper comes from donations from alumni and advertising revenue.”

Mike Peters, the prep sports editor at the Annapolis Capital, attended Mansfield (Pa.) University. Mansfield is a smaller school without the enrollment numbers of larger state schools like Penn State or Pittsburgh, and without an affluent alumni base, like Carnegie Mellon.

Peters attended the school from 2001-05 and spoke to the school’s current journalism students last week. As a senior, Peters was editor in chief of the school’s Flashlight paper, general manager of student radio station WNTE-FM and president of the student television station, MUTV.

He remains the only student to carry the distinction.

“We sold all our advertising at the Flashlight, but we’d submit a budget to the university – as almost every organization of that kind did – and that would cover our printing costs,” Peters said. “The radio station usually received the larger budget, because the upgrades were much more costly.”

At most large collegiate papers, student writers, advertisers, editors and managers are paid, but Peters wouldn’t be surprised if that changed, too.

“The Daily Collegian at Penn State was the only college paper in the state I knew of that paid the staff,” Peters said. “I don’t know how long that will continue.”

(Calls and emails requesting comment from editors at the University of Delaware’s Review and Johns Hopkins University’s weekly News-Letter were not returned. The Naval Academy has no paper.)

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