The traditional model of advertisement-funded printed newspapers is failing in the journalism realm and here on campus.
The first level of failure is financial. According to The State News Report on Financial Statements available at their office, The State News’s revenue for 2009 was down $667,686 from the previous year. This is mainly due to a decrease in advertising revenue and rent The State News charges other businesses in their building.
Many professional newspapers are experiencing similarly distressing problems, which prompted the creation of the site http://www.newspaperdeathwatch.com.
“Advertising is no longer a sustainable business model for newspapers. The costs are falling too fast and they will only continue to fall,” said Paul Gillin, the site’s founder.
When the site started out, Gillin didn’t have many people on his side.
“I started the site because I foresaw a collapse of the news industry years ago and I thought it would be interesting to document the phenomenon. I tried to get some people in mainstream media interested, but nobody seemed to believe me,” he said.
In 2010, almost everybody believes him. Here in Michigan, The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press have been operating under a joint operating agreement just to be financially viable. Despite this, they are struggling, and recently cut down publication to three days per week, essentially giving up their status as daily papers as far as delivery customers are concerned.
So why is The State News still functioning? Your tax dollars. In 2009 they made $468,401 in “subscriptions.” Some are paid, yes, but the vast majority comes from the $5 automatically charged to each student every semester. This is essentially assured income, because not many people bother to walk into the office and ask for their money back.
But The State News is increasingly relying on student tax dollars, and students are increasingly dissatisfied with their coverage.
Earlier this semester, MSU’s Greek community was dissatisfied with The State News’ editorial concerning the Greek system. As covered by Spartanedge, a few Greek members organized to donate the money from their $5 tax return to the Haiti relief efforts.
In addition, The State News is offending people politically. As Michigan Liberal covered, The State News refused tax-paying students entry to their partially tax-funded building. Students used the event as a means to protest their other beefs with The State News. One student explains how they refuse to cover his skateboarding sub-culture, saying, “Fuck that, fuck The State News, I don’t care.”
Another protester points out that The State News is supposed to be the students’ “Independent Voice,” according to their motto.
“We are all students, and we all have a voice, and they are not reporting on it,” said the protester, who was greeted by the crowd’s cheers.
All this dissatisfaction with The State News leaves a hole in media coverage that alternative publications on campus are ready to fill. Next to The State News racks are ING magazine stands — they’ve got good deals in their advertising section and good articles too. Spartan Weekly is a campus publication that can tickle your funny bone. The State News isn’t the only online source of campus media anymore.
Spartanedge covered the Town Hall meeting about tuition hikes hands down better and with more multimedia than any publication on campus. The Big Green covers issues like where feminism stands on campus and minority faiths working around a Christian-centric university. A daily paper cannot provide the same in-depth coverage because of time and space limits.
In terms of successful professional organizations, Gillin says that if Newspapers are the old model, there’s a new one on the way.
“The model is probably best exemplified by Huffington Post, which has a very lean staff and relies mainly on contributions for its content,” he said.
Alternative media is coming much closer to replicating this successful model than The State News.
The more people these publications reach, the more people our hundreds of writers interview, the more people come to our Web sites or pick up our publications. Our Web traffic is increasing, and to an extent we’re feeling the news void The State News has created.
This isn’t only happening at MSU. At Penn State, a blog has usurped most of the established newspaper’s traffic using online collaborative media.
We’re not close to that on this campus, but here is the bottom line: alternative media is here for you. We’re willing to listen to your ideas and tweak our publications to meet your demands. We’re online, we’re adaptive and we want to cover what you want covered — for free. That makes us a valuable news source, and one we hope you’ll take advantage of when you’re looking for news and information on campus.
Editor’s Note: The Big Green and Spartanedge have teamed up, and are writing a series of editorials on the topic “The State of State’s Media.” A similar version of this can be found here at Spartanedge, and other parts of this series are here and here. This editorial is supported by the editorial board of Spartanedge and The Big Green.