OSU cuts summer edition of student newspaper

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Many commercial newspapers have, over the last decade, seen significant declines in circulation and advertising dollars. Insiders say newer technologies like the Internet and podcasts have shaped a generation not as keen on getting their news from newspapers. After years of going against that trend, many college papers are now struggling with the same issues as their commercial counterparts.

College newspapers are, by their very definition,in touch. Hip, relevant and generated by students themselves, they’re a hub for university culture, trends, and of course, news.

Ohio State’s student paper The Lantern is no different. It’s entirely student produced, and managed by more than a dozen section editors.

Like most newsrooms, they start their shift with an editorial meeting. In a cramped, stuffy room in the Journalism building on Neil Avenue, editors work out assignments and story ideas.

Founded in 1881, The Lantern is one of the oldest college papers in the country. For years it existed largely independent of the university, and in 1914 became a part of the journalism curriculum. Students taking the college’s news writing course also serve as reporters, copy editors and photographers.

Editors and employees in the business office are the only paid staff.

Until about two years that formula was largely successful. From 2001 to 2006 the paper saw national advertising rise 27 percent as circulation reached 28,000. But lately, things have taken a drastic turn for the worse. Other news Web sites and free advertising sites like Craigslist have posed a previously-unseen challenge for the paper. Business manager Ray Catalino says this year alone, the paper’s running a $150,000 deficit.

“If you check Craigslist, you’ll 700 or 800 ads about living on or near campus,” Catalino says. “Chances are a few years ago those ads were in our paper. That’s where we’ve really been hurt.”

With ad revenue declining, Catalino approached officials the School of Communication, which oversees the paper. Because it’s written by student, cutting writers was not an option.

In a move that may seem counter-intuitive, the school said the newspaper should cut newspapers.

This summer the Lantern will not have a print edition. Initial plans still call for news writing classes as usual, but stories will only run on the Web site. Dan McDonald is a professor of communications at OSU, and oversees financial matters relating to the Lantern. He says the move will cut payroll since business staff won’t be needed between June and September.

“What we’re trying to do is shield the journalism aspect from the business aspect,” McDonald says. “We’re trying to make sure the journalists don’t feel pressure, but at the same time we’re trying to keep the paper financially afloat.”

And in a move that might seem even more bizarre, the paper’s editorial leader agrees.

Gerrick Lewis is in his fourth quarter as editor-in-chief. When meeting with school officials he argued for doing away with summer news-writing classes all together.

“My responsibility, as I see it, is to all these students who come to work here at this paper,” Lewis says. “If you come to work at this paper, you’re getting all these clips through out the school year. You can walk away with 30 decent clips in a quarter. If you come here in the summer and can’t walk away with 5, we’re doing you a huge disservice. I watched seniors take this class last summer and walk away with one or two clips. You can’t get jobs with that.”

The move has drawn plenty of criticism.

Comment sections on the paper’s Web site are filled with rants against school leaders and the editorial board. Many consider this another step back for a journalism program that’s already lost it’s accreditation and seen budget cuts and high turnover in recent years.

Fred LoMonte directs the Student Press Law Center, a non-profit group out of Virginia that assists student journalists. He says school papers around the country are struggling with many of the same issues as Ohio State. Howard University’s paper The Hilltopper recently cut printed editions entirely and now relies solely on their Web site. LoMonte says such a move is a disservice to students.

“If you go to the quad of the campus, if you get on a campus bus, if you walk around the community of the campus, you’ll see people of all kinds and from all parts of the world reading that newspaper together,” LoMonte says. “It just provides a gathering point for people who otherwise don’t have much in common can talk about together.”

Whether summer students will ever have that gathering point again remains unclear. Business director Catalino says newspaper bins around campus will most likely remain empty every summer from here on out. School officials say journalism trends are always changing, and for now will not make any permanent changes.

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