Student press doing business with mainstream media? Not in Canada
Starting July 1, The Lantern, Ohio State University’s student newspaper, will no longer be run entirely by students. Gannett Company’s Media Network of Central Ohio (MNCO) will overtake the student paper’s business and advertising divisions under a three-year contract, The Lantern announced earlier this month. (Gannett is America’s largest newspaper chain and has a long list of clients that it manages, including USA Today.)
But could such a partnership between mainstream media and the student press ever exist in Canada?
Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences houses the student paper and will receive about $28,000 per month from MNCO for free access to the university’s student body and for as much ad revenue as it can gather. Dean Joseph Steinmetz, the executive Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences told Inside Higher Ed that the partnership will allow the university to focus more on the educational side of journalism rather than the operational side.
Students hold concerns over the business move as there may be job cuts and many feel the hands-on experience they get by selling ads themselves will be lost.
MNCO isn’t a stranger to these types of partnerships. This move is just an extension of a relationship already in order: MNCO has been printing and distributing The Lantern for about six years now. As well, as Inside Higher Ed reports, two of Gannett’s Florida papers have purchased student papers: One at Florida State University and another at the University of Central Florida.
A partnership like this in Canada? Not likely.
In Canada, partnerships like this do not exist, and Sam Brooks, the president of Canadian University Press (CUP), says that’s not something he could see happening in Canada for two reasons.
First, unlike in Canada (where student papers are owned either by their j-school, a student union or are completely autonomous), most student papers in the U.S. are managed and owned by their respective university. So, creating a partnership with a major organization is more of a business decision, as these people are removed from the day-to-day editorial process, says Brooks.
“Universities have far more administration and negotiation power than students do so the people in the upper management would see offloading those duties to a major corporation as an easy move and they would have the business talent to get it done,” he says.
The second reason is what Brooks calls a “a matter of pride and ideology.” The notion of being managed by a large corporation could threaten the paper’s identity. Many student papers push the boundaries of mainstream media and tend to have a distinct voice.
“Student publications aren’t part of the mainstream media because they don’t want to be,” says Brooks.
Pros and cons
Brooks explains that there are both positive and negative implications to a relationship such as that between The Lantern and MNCO. The positive is quite obvious: the student paper now has business and advertising resources it wouldn’t have otherwise had. Instead of hardly being noticed by advertisers, the paper will get a larger clientele and the parent company can sell huge campaigns that include student papers.
“When they go to an advertiser they can say, ‘look, we’ll put you in all these papers and one of them is a student publication.’ So that gives the people they are selling to more market reach,” Brooks explains.
The negative aspect is that the student publication will be giving up a lot of control over what appears in their own product. “They are at the mercy of what this major corporation does,” says Brooks.
An example of this is a student publication’s blacklist of advertisers, which is an ideological list of advertisements a student paper will refuse to run.
“It’s becoming more rare because papers are starting to recognize that their ignoring large revenue sources, but there certain things they sometimes blacklist and won’t accept,” says Brooks. It differs from paper to paper and not all have a blacklist. Some examples of blacklisted ads in Canada include: military recruitment, cigarettes (it is now illegal to run cigarette ads in student papers), alcohol and religious or political affiliations.
Brooks says that the closest Canadian partnership to that of The Lantern and MNCO are two advertising agencies that represent student newspapers: Campus Network and Campus Plus (Campus Plus is owned by CUP).
“But they don’t manage the business aspect of the paper. They basically represent all student newspapers in Canada on a national scale,” says Brooks. The agencies sell multi-market ad campaigns across the country and every student paper in Canada is a member of at least one of them.