MSA wants free Missourian digital memberships for MU students

Thursday, December 12, 2013 | 6:37 p.m. CST; updated 7:57 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 12, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Missouri Students Association is pressing the Columbia Missourian to give MU students free digital memberships or have its print edition removed from Mizzou Readership Program racks.

Student association President Nick Droege has been negotiating with Dan Potter, the Missourian's general manager, for the past couple of months. After a conversation with Potter on Thursday, Droege said he was optimistic about the talks.

"The conversation today was very positive," Droege said. "We're very much in agreement about what we want."

Potter also struck a positive note on Thursday afternoon.

"I think we've got some good conversations going on with MSA about what they desire and what we can do to grant their request," he said.

The Missourian, a nonprofit affiliated with MU, is staffed by students and faculty. It operates out of MU's Lee Hills Hall, and some of its equipment is university-owned.

"At the end of the day, the students are essentially funding the Missourian — writing for the Missourian, paying journalism course fees," said student association spokesman Jimmy Hibsch, who is in charge of the Mizzou Readership Program. "They can't enjoy the benefit they pay for."

Dean Mills, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism and the de facto publisher of the Missourian, said it would be difficult for the newspaper to recode its website to make it free to students.

He also said that providing free digital access would hurt the Missourian's profitability, which might lead to a worse experience for the students who train there.

"We want to serve students, but also serve our own journalism students with a teaching laboratory," Mills said.

A digital membership to the Missourian costs $5.95 a month.

Mizzou Readership Program racks offer students copies of The New York Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA Today and the Missourian. The university pays for the copies grabbed off a rack. Each MU student pays about $2.08 a semester for the service, Hibsch said.

The student association began asking for free digital access after a February poll of 100 students found that 55 percent of them wanted access to the Missourian's website and 73 percent to The New York Times' website, Hibsch said.

In February, Hibsch negotiated with the New York Times for free digital access. They reached a deal in which the Times made about 400 24-hour digital subscriptions available to students, Hibsch said. When one of the subscriptions expires, it becomes available for another student.

Droege and Hibsch are leaving their positions in the student association in January. The incoming president, Mason Schara, said he would continue Droege's effort to give students full access to the Missourian's website.

"I agree with the precedent Nick is setting," Schara said. "The payment does not just go to the print copy; it goes to the electronic copy as well."

Supervising editor is Earnest Perry.*

*Because of potential conflicts of interest, the Missourian has asked Professor Earnest Perry of the Missouri School of Journalism to act as editor.

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Ellis Smith December 13, 2013 | 5:44 a.m.

Why not also throw in free ice cream and cookies?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 13, 2013 | 9:43 a.m.

"At the end of the day, the students are essentially funding the Missourian...."They can't enjoy the benefit they pay for."

If you included the word "taxpayers", you'd be more all-inclusive. We pay (in part) for the existence of the J-school, and we pay again for their product (much of which is written by low-or-no wage writers).

(Report Comment)
Lyndsey Dunn December 13, 2013 | 2:13 p.m.

Stories on the Missourian's site are free for the first 24 hours. So, as a morning news reader, I could still technically get the daily news for free. Yes, you run into the paywall for older stories, but as a J-School alumna (one that once wrote for the Missourian), I understand that the industry cannot continue to give away its content for free. I think the Missourian and its students' amazing stories are well worth my $5.95/month. Just buy one less large chai mocha latte and boom!.. Worth it.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 13, 2013 | 2:46 p.m.

Lyndsey: "I understand that the industry cannot continue to give away its content for free."

As do I. But, you're mixing "industry" with "taxpayer supported entity", aren't you? I'm in complete agreement that...say...the KCStar or the Col. Daily Tribune should charge for any access they see fit.

The argument gets more difficult for something like the Missourian. The paper is taxpayer-supported and quite frankly it rankles me when I support something with my taxes and THEN get to pay for it again, no matter what issue we're talking about.

For other taxpayer-supported entities with ongoing written records, are you aware of any that are allowed to close their records to FOI or other access after 24 hours?

Me, neither.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 13, 2013 | 3:58 p.m.

Michael & Lyndsey:

Ice cream and cookies (see my post, above) would be more practical and far more enjoyable.

As both Warhover and I have pointed out - endlessly, it seems - the Missourian is owned by a private non-profit foundation, not by UM System or by MU. That said, Michael is correct about the presence of unpaid help; on the other hand, the faculty invovled receive salaries paid for partially by Missouri taxpayers, and one would assume the journalism department, as a university department, does not depend entirely upon revenue from the newspaper's sales and advertising for its operation.

Theoretical question: If one were to sue the Missourian for libel, would one sue:

The non-profit foundation?
MU journalism department?
MU (specifically citing the journalism department)?
University of Missouri System?
ALL of the above?

Relax, it's only a theortical question. :)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 13, 2013 | 4:23 p.m.

Ellis: I'm pointing out the same thing that many local liberals point out (when it suits them): If you take even one dollar from taxpayers, you are accountable to them and fall under certain rules of behavior/action not appropriate for for-profit, non-taxpayer-supported entities.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 13, 2013 | 9:57 p.m.


I understand. On the other hand, after years of doing so I no longer pay taxes in Missouri, so I can afford a sense of detachment about certain matters (but not about others). Taxes are higher here (and I knew that long before I moved), but the sense is that we receive fair value from those taxes (both state and local).

(Report Comment)

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