Ohio State outsources Lantern business operations, surprising student staff

OHIO — Ohio State University’s student newspaper The Lantern announced Sunday that its businessoperations will be managed by Gannett Company’s Media Network of Central Ohiostarting July 1.

The media company, which has printed and distributed thepublication for six years, extended its contract with The Lantern for another three and will now oversee all of thenewspaper’s business operations, including advertising sales and collections.

The newspaper staff made the announcement days after itheard of the deal for the first time. The business staff was informed of the contractrenewal and extension on Friday, according to student administrative assistantAlyssa Pupino. The full editorial staff was told on Sunday before the storybroke on The Lantern’s website.

But conversations about the deal with Gannett have been ongoingsince late last year, said Gifford Weary, dean of the Social and BehavioralSciences, which includes the School of Communication.

Weary said following a bidding process, the universitysigned a confidentiality agreement with Gannett, making the school unable totell student employees the details of the contract until its closure.

As a result, Lanternemployees said they were “blindsided” and raised many questions about the switch,said former editor in chief Jami Jurich.

Jurich said the main concern among staff members was thefate of the newspaper, as major media companies have “a reputation of turningcollege newspapers into independent publications.” Another concern was how muchflexibility the newspaper would have in the placement of the advertisements.

“All I wanted to know was, ‘Is The Lantern going to be here in five years?’” she said. “I want to maintainthe journalistic integrity of the paper.”

Jurich said the university has assured the staff theeditorial process will not be changed. She said the question now is: “Whathappens to our friends on the business side?”

That remains unclear, Pupino said. She said details of theoperation were “very vague” and that the staff “is not entirely sure who willhave jobs.”

The Lanternreported Sunday that MNCO President Bill Albrecht said the company will employstudents but could not tell them if the existing staff would be retained.Fourteen students currently work in TheLantern’s business office, according to the report, and one position willdefinitely be eliminated.

Pupino said a meeting with MNCO was scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday,which she hoped would “bring light” to the situation. Business staff memberswere unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.

This is the first time a private company has assumed theseduties at a non-independent college newspaper. Gannett currently manages 82 dailynewspapers, including USA Today. Italso manages two college publications, including FSView & Florida Flambeau at Florida State University and the Central Florida Future at the Universityof Central Florida. However, those newspapers were privately incorporated priorto Gannett’s takeover.

“Basically, Gannett will be contacting advertisers, sellingthe ads, collecting revenues and managing a student sales force,” Weary said.“They will keep the revenue, and, in return, reimburse us for the costsinvolved in production. Whatever money we can save through them, we canreinvest.”

Joseph Steinmetz, executive dean of the College of Arts andSciences, said the main source of support for the newspaper comes fromadvertising revenue and the college’s general fund budget. He said “the solereason for doing this was to put TheLantern on a good financial foundation.”

Weary said the costs that would usually go into resourcesfor advertising will now be funneled to the editorial staff and to “journalismtraining.”

The deal, Steinmetz said, will help student journalistsfocus their attention on improving the brand of The Lantern and its website, which hosts the online edition of thepaper on Fridays. The print edition, which has a circulation of 15,000, is onstands Monday through Thursday.

Both administrators stressed that The Lantern’s 15 paid editors and faculty adviser will remainindependent. As to who will have the final say on advertisements, Weary said a “universityliaison” would help sort out any issues that may arise. She did not say whothat person would be.

But if anyone other than a student has the last word, itcould mean trouble for the university, said Frank LoMonte, executive directorof the Student Press Law Center.

“Advertising is First Amendment protected speech. Thedecision on what ads to accept or reject legally ought to remain with thestudents at the college level,” LoMonte said. “The idea that someadministrative intermediary would have the final say in a dispute raises bigconstitutional issues.”

LoMonte also said if an administrator – a government actor –were to be the decision-maker, it would make the university more susceptible toa First Amendment lawsuit. If the final say remains with the students, there wouldbe no claim.

In a press release, Ohio State officials said Gannett’s rolewould be limited.

“MNCO’s sole involvement in editorial operations will belaying out the advertisements on the pages that The Lantern editorial staff will fill with articles, graphics andother content to best inform its audience,” according to the release.

By Sydni Dunn, SPLC staff writer