I’ve written to you several times about ideas floating around the hallways of your Columbia Missourian. Some, though not all, have come to pass. I wanted to share one intriguing question that has been put forth: Should the Missourian form a business partnership with the Columbia Daily Tribune?
Some background: The Missourian is an independently owned, not-for-profit newspaper. It has been affiliated in a practical sense with MU for all of its 99 years and 9 months, providing a real community newspaper experience for thousands of students. The newspaper receives a “laboratory fee” that was set in 1996 when the university and newspaper were affiliated in the legal sense. Still, most Missourian revenue, like almost all newspapers, comes through advertising and subscriptions, and most of the costs come from newsprint and payroll.
There’s the rub.
For decades, the newspaper has lost money. MU has restored the balance sheets, and, in return, asked for an improved bottom line from Journalism School deans and Missourian general managers. The discussion has taken on more urgency lately. The university needs to find millions in cuts to pay for faculty raises. Meanwhile, newspaper debt has increased. In faculty meetings, Provost Brian Foster has used the Missourian as an example of places to cut MU expenses. (Now, I think I could make a pretty compelling argument that he’s getting a great deal. But that’s for another letter.)
And so, on to the partnership idea. The Tribune, or any other interested press, could print this newspaper five days a week. The Missourian cuts its printing expenses, while the other publication gets distribution and advertising considerations, including potentially the highly coveted on-campus delivery.
Or not. Nary a thing has been decided. The advisory board of directors for the Missourian voted last month to pursue talks with the Tribune or any other interested party.
It also approved considering other models that would primarily move the newspaper to a mostly digital publication. These variations mainly would entail limiting the printed editions to one or two a week, with perhaps some other specialized publications. The rest of the news would be published on ColumbiaMissourian.com. Again, lots of newsprint cost would be saved.
It’s unclear to me how many jobs would be cut from either option, although presumably this second scenario would require more people in those business areas.
Each option would require some adjustments in the newsroom, but the core mission remains. In each of the seven years on my watch, and I assume for generations before, students and staff are told the first mission is as a daily community newspaper for the people of mid-Missouri. Formats, print cycles and even story-telling methods may change; the mission won’t.