OSU Newspaper Deal Unique Nationwide, Raises Concern Of Expert
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At Ohio State University and most other college campuses, student newspapers are produced by students themselves.
But that’s changing, at least on the business side.
OSU administrators have reached what appears to be a one-of-a-kind deal with a local arm of the Gannett Company to manage The Lantern’s business office.
The Lantern issued its first edition in 1881 and played a key part in forming the School of Journalism. It now has daily circulation of about 15,000 and regularly wins awards and breaks stories, including many of the developments in last year’s scandal in the OSU football program.
Why Make The Deal?
The Lantern receives college funding, but like any newspaper it relies on advertising.
Gifford Weary is Ohio State’s Interim Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences, which oversees the School of Communication. She says with ad revenue declining in recent years, The Lantern needed to secure funding.
“We needed to make sure that if we wanted this to be an important component of our our journalism students’ training, that it was on sounder financial footing.”
So under a three year deal beginning next month, the Gannett Company’s Media Network of Central Ohio will handle the paper’s advertising operations and keep the revenue. In exchange, it’ll send OSU about $28,000 a month.
The company has printed The Lantern at a press in Newark for several years. Executives declined to go on tape for this story, but an emailed statement says the deal ensures “The Lantern remains a viable and vibrant journalism laboratory.”
Just like biology and engineering laboratories, The Lantern is a part of a curriculum. It’s the core of OSU’s journalism major, with students required to write, edit, and shoot daily content.
Ally Marotti is the paper’s incoming editor-in-chief. She says students got the news at the end of spring quarter.
“The staff of The Lantern was kind of shocked. They say that they’re not going to affect the editorial side of things, but they were still kind of curious as to why this happened, and how it happened. Things like that.”
Both OSU and Gannett insist the deal will have zero impact on news coverage and other editorial decision. And they say Gannett has agreed to keep the same number of student employees.
Despite the reassurances, Paul Bittick is still concerned.
Bittick is president of the College Newspaper Business Advertisers and Managers, a trade group that helps college papers find and train business staff. He says as far as he knows, this is the country’s first case of a college-owned paper leasing out is business office.
He calls the lease with Gannett a troubling example of a university trying to profit from a student paper.
“If they have that philosophy, why don’t they have professional writers on the newspaper too? Because they’d be better-suited to put out a daily newspaper. That’s not the purpose of a college newspaper. The purpose of a college newspaper is a learning experience.”
Bittick says a deal like OSU’s creates split interests between advertisers and writers.
“Should a story come out in the paper that may not be something that Gannett likes in the paper, or one of the advertisers, and how Gannett deals with that? It’s going to be very interesting to watch,” Bittick says.
OSU administrators insist those fears are overblown. Dean Gifford Weary says staff members had some initial concerns about the deal, too.
“And I think once they learned there would be no control by Gannett of the editorial end of the business, the concerns largely dissipated.”
Always the journalist, Lantern editor-in-chief Ally Marotti didn’t want to give an opinion on the deal. She says she’s just curious to see how it plays out.