Columbia Missourian's finances improve after reorganization

Friday, September 11, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:12 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 11, 2009

COLUMBIA — Dan Potter is finally sleeping again at night.

Six months after a major reorganization, Potter, the Columbia Missourian's general manager, is cautiously optimistic about the financial future of the newspaper. After discontinuing its Saturday and Monday editions, drastically reducing its staff and receiving more lab support from MU, the newspaper is operating much better than budgeted.

“I’m not waking up at three in the morning anymore,” Potter said.

The Missourian's financial woes made national headlines a year ago, as the Missouri School of Journalism celebrated its centennial. Many worried the paper would not survive.

Dean Mills, dean of the journalism school and the Missourian’s publisher, said he is delighted that the newspaper is doing better than financially projected. “I’m surprised, actually, as we hadn’t predicted the (national) financial crisis when we made the budget,” he said.

The community newspaper is staffed by professional editors and student reporters and is one of the journalism school's three laboratory newsrooms, along with NBC-affiliate KOMU-TV and radio station KBIA/91.3 FM. These news outlets teach young reporters by merging practice and theory, a teaching style that has come to be known as the "Missouri Method." The Missourian was founded in 1908, on the same day as the Missouri School of Journalism, which is the oldest in the world.

Although the Missourian Publishing Association, a non-profit organization, owns the Columbia Missourian, the newspaper is an affiliate of MU. As an MU laboratory, the Missourian receives lab support from the university. It also receives a subsidy to pay off any year-end debt. In 2008, the university covered a deficit of slightly more than $1 million. After several years of covering high deficits, MU demanded the newspaper cut its costs.

In response, Potter cut staff positions for 18 months prior to the March deadline and reduced the non-newsroom staff by 40 percent. Since July 1, 2008, he said, the Missourian has cut $1.02 million from its annual operating expenses.

In the first three months of the new plan, the Missourian lost $26,889. In the same period last year, the paper lost $237,651.

For the 2009 fiscal year, after four months with the new plan, Potter said the year-end subsidy from MU was $479,228 — a 52.5 percent drop.

Increased lab support from the university helped soften the blow. Potter said the Missourian's lab support had not been raised since its implementation in 1997. In March, the university increased this amount to $650,000 from $250,000.

Potter said the most significant reason for the paper's financial improvement has been expense reductions, followed by the increased lab support money and higher than expected advertising revenues.

"We're not going to break even by the end of this fiscal year but, believe me, we're trying," he said. He estimated the paper would end the 2010 fiscal year with an annual loss of $200,000 versus a budgeted annual loss of $401,000.

Executive editor Tom Warhover said, “It’s as if a huge boulder has been lifted from our shoulders."

Potter will report the latest numbers to the newspaper's board of directors at its annual meeting on Oct. 23, but some board members are happy with what they've heard so far.

"I think it's just been a terrific financial and fiscal story for the Missourian to turn on a dime like this,” said Mark Russell, president of the Missourian Publishing Association’s board of directors and print news manager for the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel. “Without a robust Missourian, we become just another (journalism) school."

Potter emphasized that the Missourian would continue to keep expenses low, particularly as the paper develops more online media.

“We’re not sitting back with our feet up and are very comfortable that it’s going to happen automatically,” he said. “You’ve got to continue to work at it, innovate and be entrepreneurial or you end up right back where we started.”

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Mike Martin September 11, 2009 | 9:06 a.m.


The community newspaper is staffed by professional editors, student reporters, and a number of unpaid columnists and other writers who contribute free content virtually every week.

"We sell the newspaper and we take paid advertising," said Missourian financial director Stan Kotter. "Naturally, getting all that free content does wonders for the bottom line."

One of the journalism school's three laboratory newsrooms, the Missourian teaches young reporters by merging practice and theory, a teaching style that has come to be known as the "Missouri Method."

Students quickly learn that if they ever freelance -- with all the cutbacks in print media, an increasingly common career path among professional journalists -- they'll face stiff competition from writers who aren't being paid.

"Missouri may be the Show Me State," Kotter said. "But with the Missouri Method, young reporters quickly learn it isn't the 'Show Me the Money' state."

Unless, of course, you're a coach. In 2008, the university covered a deficit of slightly more than $1 million -- a bargain compared to what they pay certain football and basketball coaches -- but not acceptable outside the Athletic Department.

After several years of covering high deficits, MU demanded the newspaper cut its costs.

One bright spot: "Fortunately, we didn't have to cut columnists," Kotter said.

Kotter said the most significant reason for the paper's financial improvement has been expense reductions, followed by the increased lab support money and higher than expected advertising revenues.

"It doesn't take a genius to realize that if you don't pay your writers but you're taking in advertising revenue and getting a taxpayer subsidy, it's a revenue positive situation," Kotter said.

Kotter emphasized that the Missourian would continue to keep expenses low.

"It's a sacrifice our writers are willing to make," he said. "Now if we can only get our editors on board, we should be sitting pretty for decades to come."

Kotter will report the latest numbers to the newspaper's board of directors at its annual meeting on Oct. 23, but some board members are happy with what they've heard so far.

"And why wouldn't they be?" Kotter chuckled. "Everybody knows you can't beat free."


(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover September 11, 2009 | 3:00 p.m.

Just to be clear: the previous comment by Mike Martin (aka "Columbia Heartbeat") is an attempt at lampoonery. He doesn't speak for the Missourian and, in fact, speaks against it here.

I've received some comments from readers who thought "Edited for Accuracy" indicated it was a story revision by the newspaper.

To the substance: Mr. Martin's complaint, here and in other venues, is against the newspaper's use of unpaid columnists. He's right; we generally don't pay our regular contributors to the editorial pages. He's incorrect that staff-written stories written are free. The newspaper employs 18 full time editor-professors or other instructors as well as more than 40 part-time, paid employees in its newsrooms.

In other words, the student-reporters are hardly free. It takes extra time and care to make sure the stories are at professional standards and the students receive the education they deserve.

With full- and part-time staff in advertising, circulation, information technology and elsewhere, those employees help produce the daily print and digital Missourian and Vox magazine.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 11, 2009 | 4:46 p.m.

Tom Warhover thank you for a great newspaper that teaches these students the fundamentals in the journalistic world.

Not everything people do for others has to be about money.

Keep up the great work.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 11, 2009 | 4:59 p.m.

Tom Warhover say: "He's incorrect that staff-written stories written are free."

Just to be clear, I never made such a claim. I'm speaking about the Missourian not paying for regular columns and other articles (like the 856-word piece by Brian Wallstin about health insurance. Mr. Wallstin has no health insurance, presumably because he can't afford it).

As a practicing and paid journalist, I'm flabbergasted that the world's leading J-school would support not paying their columnists and writers, for countless reasons:

1) Our supposed positions in this society as guardians of social and economic justice;

2) The terrible financial state of journalism today;

3) The bad modeling this practice engenders among students;

4) And the screwball expectation that these unpaid writers must adhere to professional standards. The Missourian "fired" an unpaid columnist a few years ago over charges of plagiarism.

So quick are we journalists to condemn economic inequality -- "Oh no, it's not fair to pay migrant farm workers $2.00/day. Oh yes -- everyone should have affordable health care coverage."

But those migrant farm workers and uninsured workers are making more than the unpaid writers who opine about their plights!

Theatre of the absurd, if there ever was such.

Some more recent stories about this issue:

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 12, 2009 | 1:02 p.m.

Columbia Heartbeat,

Perhaps they're not paid so that the institution can avoid litigation.

I can't see what the relevence is of the editor stating Mister Wallstin has no health insurance. What's that got to do with anything?

I can tell you, because I'm insured, I can't go to the ER without paying a very stiff CoPay. But, I'm OK with that, since this tiered system could be a lot worse.

Regarding the Paper's profitability, I would consider the fact that one reader said he'll not read it anymore because a reporter used the term TEABAGGER. The editor claims he thought he took out the term in his first edit. The author apologized for using the term, stating not what his intent was, but what it was not. Is this a quality product? Can you get advertising revenue with this type of reporting and editorial management?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 12, 2009 | 9:59 p.m.

@Brian Nitsllaw:

Since there's no such person as "Brian Nitsllaw" in the entire world (except for here -- Google it), I'm curious as to why you chose Brian Wallstin's name to reverse.

Wallstin = Nitsllaw

Are you like his evil alter-ego? Or his smarter older doppelganger? The freelance journalist who actually gets paid for the columns he submits to his former employer? The guy who, because he does get paid, can actually afford basic health care coverage (waiting on that long overdue per-word raise to cover the co-pay)?

Just thought it was a weird choice for a screen nick. Imitation is the sincerest form of flatter, but reverse imitation -- I'm not sure what that is.

My reverse name, btw, is Nitram. But don't get any ideas.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 12, 2009 | 10:02 p.m.


Columbia Missourian's finances improve after editors, general manager forgo paychecks

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 13, 2009 | 9:34 a.m.

While financial improvement may be good news, it ignores the fact that for several consecutive years the operation was solidly and in fact deeply in the red. Why weren't steps taken sooner to correct the problem?

Is everyone supposed to forget that?

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 10:10 a.m.

Dear Nitram, I resemble that remark! Wow, I didn't expect such a well-composed response, largely because I didn't think I deserved it!

Evil? I see no evil. Alter-ego? That may be impossible. Older? That hurts, but I don't think so. Smarter? Is that possible?

Why did I choose the reverse? It seemed like a good idea at the time, since it's possible he and I are diametrically opposed on social, economic, political and journalistic values.

Do I sense a little sarcasm in your post? Since you point out Brian can afford health insurance, what do you believe is the reason the editor(s) made the point that he's uninsured?

I believe the fourth estate has the RESPONSIBILITY to act RESPONSIBLY. I believe that, in a free society, a free press will always tend to corrupt to the left, and it's incumbent upon the editorial staff to police their output. Add to that the fact that there are students on the reporting staff, that's all the more reason to get it not just correct, but definitively correct. These young people are the future, and deserve the best chance to succeed. They deserve an environment that is either un-biased, or highly descriptive of the bias, so they can understand and learn.

Actually, if it were in full reverse, it would be Nitsllaw Nairb, but that would be too easy to decipher.

(Report Comment)
Brian Wallstin September 13, 2009 | 10:53 a.m.

I hesitate to inject myself here, but:

I gave Jake the option of including the fact that i have no insurance because i believe in transparency. Readers had the right to know my status while considering my point of view. They can also take or leave a more relevant point - that i would have written the same thing if i had insurance.

Speaking of transparency, Mr. "Nitsllaw" is actually a former HS classmate of mine who harassed me on Facebook to the point where i had to block him. That doesn't mean he doesn't have something to contribute to these discussions, even if he can't see his way clear to identifying himself.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 10:55 a.m.

Dear Nitram, again, had me on the sarcasm. I'l admit to being a little slow on the uptake sometimes. I thought you meant BRIAN was paid, and not his alter-ego. You're all too smart for me.

But hey. You make it sound like free lance journalism can be a tough craft by which to earn a living. Maybe that can be a lesson to the students.


(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 11:38 a.m.

Well Brian, It seems I have no need to reveal myself, as you supposedly already did. Now exactly what do you believe you gained by that?

I have my reasons for protecting my privacy, and would expect you would respect them without question. I do state my full name publicly where I know I can trust the venue. The fact that the text of posts here change without record of such is a little scary. These days, that alone should be enough reason for me to be careful, hesitant.

Whether I reveal myself or not, what that has to do with the presentation of ideas is largely irrelevent, don't you agree? Ideas should stand on their own, regardless of their source.

What do you make of talking about me without addressing the issues presented?

For the record, I don't take the term "harass" as lightly as others may. I see the author apparently freely throws out inflammatory terms, apparently for effect (since he's not explained otherwise). Funny though, I'm not so sure those injections produce the desired effect.

From what appears in your writing, hesitation by you is not apparent.

You didn't appear to hesitate when you used an openly inflammatory, derogatory term, and when you used it, you didn't explain your intent of its use in your subsequent apology.

None of this really has anything to do with me or who I am, does it?

And, the fact that people can freely come on here and not reveal thier identity I believe is an assumed right. So much so, that your attempt to reveal who I am violates an assumed privacy. As such, I am offended.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 12:01 p.m.

Here's what I will freely reveal about myself. I am a social libertarian, and a fiscal conservative. I may be offended by Mister Wallstins remarks, but I am not intimidated by his tactics.

I am a proud supporter and sponsor of his so-called 'TXXBAGGERS' (I will no longer state the exact term as he originally included in his piece, which was subsequently changed, apparently without record).

I believe as they do, that the liberal agenda and its requisite spending can not be sustained.

The shoe fits and I proudly wear it.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 12:34 p.m.

Mister Wallstin,
Please be informed, any further attempts by you to reveal my identity will be considered by me as harassment. I have already stated my reasons for maintaining my right to privacy on this site. I respectfully and politely request you refrain from referring to any information other than what I have posted here.

Regarding any material you have published, I reserve the right to refer to it, as you're being a journalist assumes such.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 12:49 p.m.

I'd like to clarify something here. I am a private citizen. Mister Wallstin is a journalist. As a journalist, Brian opens his publications to criticism, including from anonymous sources.

The opposite case is not true. A journalist can not require a critic to reveal his identity. Even if I were a journalist, or just a private citizen, Brian's references to me should only be of what I state publicly.

Whether or not Brian is correct in his assumptions of my identity,

I would not publicize anything sent to me privately. I expect this basic and obvious right to be respected.

That this has become something about me, and not the issues, I deeply regret. Just consider the fact that up until his post about me, I've concerned myself (aside from some levity) solely with the issues.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 13, 2009 | 12:52 p.m.

I love the way these name cloners cannot read this simple sentence here but claim to be literary,educational and political geniuses.

>>> When you post, please use your actual name. <<<

Or at least leave a plain back trace o your real identity.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 1:16 p.m.

Mister Dudley,
With all due respect, I didn't notice the request that I use my actual name when I signed up. Also, please realize,unless I'm wrong here, it's a request and not a requirement. Sorry if I'm sounding like a lawyer, but I believe in clarity.

Sir, I also assume you are not referring to me, because I make no claims as to my literary, educational and/or political education or accuity.

However, that your post is just after mine, and there are no other apparent "name cloners", I must conclude you indeed refer to me.

That the sentence is a request and not a requirement, your assumption that I did not read it, with all due respect, sir, is erroneous.

Again, I've made no claims as to my intelligence or education. However, Mister Dudley clearly implies one. I am thus offended, but again, not intimidated.

In reality, my sole compositional education was a single three-credit composition class. I have very little compositional experience, and freely admit my ignorance.

It appears intimidation is a tactic widely used in what should otherwise be an objective discussion of the issues. I'm quite disappointed.

I would not reject a clarification or apology.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 1:25 p.m.

With a measured level of glee, the amateur, with due satisfaction, yelled "NEXT!"

In my opinion, this forum should not be about ideas and not personalities. This should be a constructive, healthy, and above all, requisite criticism of media.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 1:34 p.m.

Further illustrating that I am not a SuperHuman, I made a mis-statement in my prior post.

Instead of:
In my opinion, this forum should not be about ideas and not personalities. This should be a constructive, healthy, and above all, requisite criticism of media.

I meant:
In my opinion, this forum should be about ideas and not personalities. This should be a constructive, healthy, and above all, requisite criticism of media.

I am thus less glee-full.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 1:45 p.m.

I would like to state I greatly appreciate that the Missourian permits and provides for comments on their product. I don't take this lightly, and am considering a donation, since I'm apparently making good use of this service. I'm just not sure if it should be anonymous.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 2:08 p.m.

Mister Dudley,
As copied below, underneath the dashes, the registration page contains no request that <When you post, please use your actual name>.

I now see the statement in the "Leave your comment" section. Had I seen that when I registered, I may have acted differently.

Also, when I registered, I thought my username would be the one seen in my posts, not the first name, last name. That it showed the way it did after my first post, I was surprised, but decided to continue as it was.

Also, I have no idea what a "plain back trace" is.

Mister Dudley, I would also remind you that the "Leave a comment" paragraph also requests posts be civil, which I should have heeded when I said NEXT. My apologies. Nuff said on my side. How about you?


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(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 13, 2009 | 2:22 p.m.

Your responses are almost as comical as watching Bill Oreily on Fox.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 2:27 p.m.

Mister Dudley,
Did you ever consider the possibility, that when I originally registered, that I had already seen the name "Columbia Heartbeat", and thought user names could be fictional?

Have you likewise chastised this/these person(s)?

I regret this discussion has degraded into arguing minutiae. "Certainly not my intent".

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 13, 2009 | 2:36 p.m.

Yikes, Brian Wallstin!

"Mr. 'Nitsllaw' is actually a former HS classmate of mine who harassed me on Facebook to the point where i had to block him."

That sounds kind of serious -- and kinda creepy, what with the reversed last name -- and all these sudden posts!

What's motivating the stalking?

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 2:57 p.m.

Serious? Creepy? Stalking? Those are bold terms, and assume what Mister Wallstin states is accurate.

Motivation? Not much other a penchant for journalistic integrity. Need I more?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 13, 2009 | 2:57 p.m.

Stalking online is a cyber crime.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 3:05 p.m.

Define stalking. What herein by me would constitute stalking? I'm stating facts.

I it shall be intimidation, which I suppose is not a crime, but above me.

Your O'Reilley comment is duly noted sir. I'm a proud watcher. And your statement is telling, proving you've made your judgement.

I'll seek integrity elsewhere. Like on O'Reilley.

See Ya.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 4:05 p.m.

Hey Charles,
Seeing as you didn't respond to my posts, other than I supposedly sound like Bill O'Reilley, I see this forum is more like a playground to you, than something requiring serious thought. You apparently assume no responsibility for the accuracy of your posts. That seems like the pattern here at the Missourian . So much for profitability.

You're like a drive by, Charles, not to call you a name, but an attempt to call you on your methods, or lack thereof. Hey no problem, except that I'll still hold what you said about me was incorrect, and thus offensive to me who is someone who strives for accuracy and integrity. (If that makes me like O'Reilley, I'm duly proud).

I'm seeing this all as a waste of time too, as I hoped Brian would explain his intent in using the "TXXBAGGER" term, which he chose not to, and Jake has yet to respond as well, as to how it just slipped by.

So Columbia Heartbeat, my attempt at promoting journalistic integrity is a failure. Brian and Jake get a pass.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 13, 2009 | 4:55 p.m.

>>> You're like a drive by, <<< Did you look in the mirror before you decided to post today?

Nice try at humor if anybody can actually call it that. Come back with a real solid name that people can trace to a real person and then your posts might have some merit.

This forum format is starting to look like the Tribune at times with all of the fake names members hide behind.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 5:28 p.m.

Charles: Useless to discuss this with you. You say look in the mirror, but you'll find nothing by me that resembles your shots. You haphazardly say what you want and don't stand behind it. No attempt at humor on my part. I see your other drive bys, not just the multiple shots at me. From my perspective Columbia is starting to look like Compton.

I've already stated why I choose to be anonymous. I won't risk attaching my name to posts here. It's very clear that the text of posts change without record. I'll not be edited after the fact.

Columbia Heartbeat: Suffice it to say the harassment statement is inaccurate, and inappropriate to address here. Liken it to the misplaced attempt at sensationalism that his TXXBAGGER statement intended, for which I'll remind all he still has not explained. So apparently that is acceptable as journalism and appropriate behavior here. That should be telling in itself.

The drive-by mentality here, where people make statements irresponsibly, is a poor example to the students on staff who may accept this discourse as appropriate, intelligent, professionally acceptable, and possessing integrity.

To the students I strongly suggest you please consider these behaviors closely before adopting.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 8:35 p.m.

I've not heard from Jake or Brian yet on my requests as to the INTENT of the use of the term TXXBAGGER. I've also not heard from Jake or Brian as to precisely why they consider the term divisive. I've been insulted, intimidated and possibly threatened by more than one poster here, as I've awaited my response.

Responsible journalism is all I expect, especially from a publication that uses students on its staff. If I do not get a response by noon Monday, I will assume Brian and Jake choose not to respond.

Jake and Brian are free to contact me offline, as I am about to provide Brian a necessarily discreet e-mail address.

I'm sure all involved would appreciate a refrain from the continuing derogatory and demeaning posts I am receiving. They're uncivil and not appreciated.

The reasons why I choose to remain anonymous have already been posted. I'm at the point now, after the derogatory posts, and mention of online stalking, that I now feel the safety of those I find dear would be compromised in revealing my identity I regret that fact, as I am proud of my accomplishments in education, and my reputation professionally and personally.

In other words, I don't need the drive-bys calling my house, my place of employment, etc, forcing me into unnecessary and undeserved awkward situations. SORRY CHARLIE, I AIN'T FALLING FOR IT!

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock September 13, 2009 | 9:39 p.m.

@Brian Nitsllaw,

I was the one who changed the derogatory term "teabaggers" to "tea protesters" after I discovered it had not been removed through the editing process. I did notice the word on my edit of the column but failed to take it out.

I made mention of the situation in the comments section of the story:

Upon further reading, I'll agree with you that my comment does not satisfactorily set the record straight as to the changed term, and I just appended a correction to that story, which can be seen here:

Again, you have my apologies for letting that term slip through.

Jake Sherlock
Opinion Editor

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 13, 2009 | 11:53 p.m.

As we are all busy in our normal lives, I appreciate your taking the time to contact me. Please forgive me, as I don't see your mentioned correction. By the way, I'm saving a the current cached version, so if you direct me, Im sure to find it. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this free conversation.


(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 5:02 p.m.

GIGO. Maybe if you paid journalists, you'd get better stories. Looking at some of these, it couldn't hurt. Better quality, more readers, more bucks. None of your advertisers/potentials mention quality? And, where's the pride?

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 5:03 p.m.

In many cases, I see better quality in the comments than in the pieces. How upside down is that?

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 5:17 p.m.

Mister Dudley, for whatever reason you decided to apparently, uncivilly and judgementally, do a couple drive-bys on me with lies about my claims to my education/intelligence (I made none), and other shots.

Since education seems to rock your world, how about filling us in your YOURS? I only say apparently because you mentioned the term "name cloner", but not my pen name directly. So Manly! And were you born and raised a Liberal, or did your education enlighten you?

(Report Comment)

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