COLUMBIA — The MU Provost announced Monday that the Columbia Missourian has reached an agreement with MU administrators to scale back the number of its weekly print editions in order to ensure its future as a community paper and a teaching lab for young journalists.
By the end of February, the Columbia Missourian will begin distributing a print edition five days a week, cutting a weekday edition and the Weekend Missourian, which is distributed free to 40,000 Columbia households. The estimated savings from the reduction is about $350,000.
Vox magazine, also a Missourian product, will continue to publish weekly on Thursdays.
The three-year agreement ends months-long speculation regarding the paper’s future and further insulates the paper against major budget cuts facing the University of Missouri System. Missourian editors and staff welcomed the announcement as a definitive statement of the newspaper’s mission.
“Now we have a very clear framework to move forward,” said Scott Swafford, a Missourian city editor and an associate professor of journalism at MU.
Dean Mills, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, characterized the agreement as a victory amid talk of cuts in state funding for MU and economic troubles facing the newspaper industry as a whole.
“Look at it this way: we’re still home-delivering two more editions than the Detroit Free Press,” Mills said, jokingly during a meeting Monday afternoon with Missourian editors and staff. The Free Press recently announced that it will soon reduce home delivery of its print newspaper to three days a week.
Reducing print publications is a method being used by other newspapers with declining revenue, said Mark Russell, managing editor for The Orlando Sentinel and president of the Missourian Publishing Association. Russell also viewed Monday’s announcement as a victory.
“I see it as more than a stop gap. It’s an opportunity for the Missourian to find ways to enhance its digital products and online experience,” Russell said.
In addition to the Missourian maintaining its operations, Russell said the agreement solidified the paper’s future as a training lab for future journalists. He graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism in 1984.
“It was one of the best experiences I had in college. It helped establish my bedrock principles as a journalist,” Russell said of his time at the Missourian.
Before the agreement, Tom Warhover, the Missourian’s executive editor for innovation, had feared that budget concerns might have prompted MU to not cover the paper’s deficit above $250,000; the operating deficit totaled more than $1 million in fiscal year 2007.
Several options had been bandied around as potential solutions, including ceasing all print publication or shifting the newspaper’s focus toward MU campus news, an option Warhover said many students didn’t care for.
“My students felt that if you distributed only on campus it didn’t count. I think they believed that it would have made the newspaper a second-class citizen,” Warhover said.
Another highly discussed option was a possible partnership between the Missourian and the Columbia Daily Tribune or another media outlet. The agreement announced Monday takes the partnership option off the table.
Missourian General Manager Dan Potter said that he had gone through about 18 different business models and is confident that this is the best possible option.
“It’s a big sense of relief for me. We’re certainly going to be better off financially,” Potter said.
But Potter said that he does not think the Missourian will be able to operate without any financial support in the near future, though it is possible that the paper can be more economically viable.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. There’s so many unknowns with the economy," Potter said.
MU Provost Brian Foster said the Missourian and Vox are too valuable to let be diminished, and he and other administrators wanted to find a long-term solution.
“We had a situation where the operational deficit had become very large. On the other hand, the Missourian and Vox are incredibly valuable resources for the journalism school. We had to find a way to maintain them,” Foster said.