University will step in after student government slashes Missouri student newspapers funding

MISSOURI — The University of Missouri-St. Louis is stepping in to save its student newspaper after a student budget committee opted to completely slash the publication’s funding subsidy, staffers say.

Representatives from The Current met with UMSL Chancellor Thomas George and other top officials Monday to discuss ways to mend the situation so that the university can preserve its student voice.

Though an agreement is not “set in stone,” the university plans to forgive the student newspaper’s more than $20,000 debt and provide money to cover production costs, said spokesman Bob Samples. In addition, the school will appoint editorial and business advisers to provide further guidance to student reporters.

The chancellor said student editors seemed “very receptive,” Samples said.

The Currents Editor-in-Chief Sharon Pruitt said it came as a complete shock when the Student Activities Budget Committee recommended the paper receive zero in student-fee funding. The Current had requested $29,924 to cover printing costs and general expenses.

Without funding from student government or the university, The Current cannot exist, Pruitt said. The staff could finish out the semester on its current budget, but the summer’s orientation issue and other future issues would have likely been shelved, she said.

Although the committee offered no official explanation for the budget elimination, Pruitt said the decision seemed to stem from the newspaper’s financial history, particularly the level of debt and declining revenue. Like all print publications, the weekly Current is struggling to adapt to the ever-changing media climate, and it has accrued a sizable debt, Pruitt said.

Despite that, The Current has found ways to cut costs, Pruitt said.

“We’ve cut that debt nearly in half in the last couple of years,” Pruitt said. “We’ve definitely been making progress. Newspapers everywhere are struggling.”

The budget committee gets requests for roughly $1 million, and they have about $500,000 to give out, Samples said.

In addition to meeting with students, administrators have collaborated with deans and faculty have been meeting with top administrators to discuss saving The Current, Samples said.

“Without a doubt, the entire administration on this campus thinks a student newspaper is important, and I think that’s the overriding message,” Samples said. “We think we’re working in the right direction.”

Cate Marquis, The Current’s business manager and a former editor-in-chief, said the students on the budget committee might not fully understand the decision that was made.

“Other students who don’t understand the costs of running the student newspaper make the decision about the budget,” Marquis said.

For some examples, The Current has cut most paid staff positions and has not made any recent software purchases, Marquis said. The paper has been redesigned to a smaller format, and students also often pay for office supplies and other general expenses out of pocket, Marquis said.

“We’re operating as bare bones as we could,” Marquis said. “We limit the pages and color in the paper every week.”

Daniel Armistead, the student chairman of the budget committee, declined to comment through email, deferring to the university spokesman.

That The Current is paying off its debt didn’t seem to matter to the budget committee, Marquis said.

“We’re very hopeful,” Marquis said. “The administration understands the importance of having a newspaper.”

Still, the relationship between administrators and The Current hasn’t been without its bumps in the road.

In the fall of 2011, UMSL redesigned its website’s homepage, Marquis said. There used to be a prominently displayed link to the The Current’s website, but the revamp axed it in favor of a university-sponsored publication.

The linked Web page, which was recently redesigned to be more-obviously a public-relations endeavor, looked very similar to The Current’s website and confused both alumni and incoming students, Marquis said.

The university’s spokesman said the website has never been misleading, however.

“I think (Marquis is) the only one that has ever expressed concern,” Samples said. “I think it’s pretty apparent that it’s a university publication.”

Contact Santus by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.