Cal State-Long Beach considers scrapping paper's print version

CALIFORNIA — A dean’s proposal to scrap the print edition of California State University at Long Beach’s campus paper and move it online has stirred controversy among faculty and students and might have led to the removal of the chairman of the journalism department.

“It’s a premature move,” said Bradley Zint, editor in chief of the Daily 49er. “Everybody says online is the future. But the future is not now.”

College of Liberal Arts Dean Gerry Riposa said he will hire a consultant to evaluate four alternative production models — including the online-only publication — to help the struggling paper save money through eliminating or lessening printing costs. The other proposals are reducing the number of print copies and bulking up the Web site, eliminating the Web site and only publishing a print edition or remaining with the current model.

“We have a production model that every year is in red ink,” Riposa said. “We’re going to need to consider alternatives.”

The proposal follows the dean’s decision to discontinue subsidies to the paper earlier this month. The paper, which is funded almost solely through advertising revenue, had been unable to cover its expenses since it went independent in 2003, and the College of Liberal Arts had been picking up the tab at a rate of $30,000 to $50,000 a year.

The dean said he pulled the funding because he wants the paper to seek resources from other members of the campus community and he felt the paper was not being run efficiently enough. He added that he felt the quality of the paper did not warrant his investment.

“If you need money, you’re going to need to show how you’re going to create something valuable with it,” he said. “So far that is not the case. …They provide most of the news in an abbreviated way.”

But Beverly Munson, the Daily 49er‘s general manager, said the paper already is “running on bare bones.” She said becoming an online-only publication would be a mistake because the paper’s online counterpart makes a mere $500 year in advertising revenue, only a tiny fraction of the $300,000 the paper receives annually from advertising.

“Our online product is not strong enough to sustain itself,” she said. “My concern is that if the print product goes away that the online product would be close behind it.”

Munson added the paper likely will have to cut paid staff because of the loss of the college’s subsidies.

Beyond the financial issues an online-only publication would pose, putting the paper online exclusively could diminish people’s access to it, especially among college students who are constantly on the move, said Barbara Kingsley-Wilson, a lecturer in the department of journalism and the paper’s faculty adviser.

“Certainly eliminating the print edition would lessen the student voice de facto,” she said. “(The paper) would reach fewer people even if it’s unintentional.”

One of the most vocal critics of the dean’s handling of the paper is journalism professor William Babcock, whom Riposa dismissed from his post as department chairman Sept. 21.

Toni Beron, a spokeswoman for the university, said the controversy surrounding the newspaper had nothing to do with Babcock’s dismissal. Under Babcock’s leadership, the journalism department had failed to receive accreditation from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and “had been unable to function within its budget.”

“There needed to be some changes in the department,” she said.

But Babcock, who will remain a tenured journalism professor at the university, said he believes his removal had “100 percent to do with the controversy.”

Other faculty members said that both the print and online edition are necessary to train students for careers in journalism.

“I would think student journalists need both a print and online experience because that’s what the marketplace still demands,” said John Canalis, a journalism instructor and an assistant editorial pages editor at the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “Most newspapers are providing both and the college experience should mirror the professional world.”

There also is some confusion over who would have the authority to change the paper’s format. Though the paper is “independent,” it still occupies university space rent-free and maintains a faculty adviser in the newsroom, paid for by journalism department.

“It still undefined what kind of technical relationship we have,” said Daily 49er managing editor Lauren Williams.

Babcock said the dean has authority over the paper by virtue of the fact that it still relies on funds from the College of Liberal Arts and that it occupies university-owned space rent-free.

“He controls the budget of the College of Liberal Arts,” he said. “He could effectively kick out the newspaper.”

Riposa maintains that he would not make any drastic changes if the students were opposed and said the final decision likely would be made by a committee of faculty and staff.

But Williams said the student journalists should have sole control over the direction of the paper.

“We were made independent and part of that independence is being able to control our medium,” she said.