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.