Editorial: Long live the Trib

MU_SealAs The Marquette Tribune said in a statement early Saturday, the Marquette Board for Student Media’s suggestion to cut the Tribune from 16 to eight pages was delayed Friday following overwhelming public support for the Tribune from its staff, fellow Marquette students and Marquette alumni. The Tribune will publish, at least for now, 12 pages on Tuesdays and 16 on Thursdays, as opposed to its traditional 16 and 20.

We are immensely grateful for the generous outpouring of support. Without the contributions each person made by either tweeting with the hashtag #LongLiveTheTrib or signing the petition on Change.org to completely reverse the cuts, we would probably be printing only eight pages today.

The original suggestion was made in a meeting Wednesday of the Marquette Board for Student Media. The meeting included Tribune Editor-in-Chief Andrew Phillips. Though board members suggested that the cuts were necessary, they could not provide any specific budget details to back up those claims. We applaud them for not making this decision official without those details, but we find it odd that the discussion even took place without that information.

The budgetary information is clearly something we need to know. We understand the university has to address some financial issues moving forward. We also understand the realities of the journalism industry the board continually cites – that print is being cut across the country in favor of digital advances. However, student media is not a business – it is an educational opportunity for students that should not be jeopardized, especially if there is little to no evidence to justify its cutting.

The university subsidizes student media, providing $367,000 for fiscal year 2013, but always expects to run a deficit of about $150,000. As of now, the advertising department stands $33,000 away from its revenue goal for the year, which is $4,000 closer than it was at this time last year. Advertising Director Anthony Virgilio said in the meeting that he was optimistic the department would reach its goal this year, but it seemed the board members went into the meeting with their minds already made up – the Tribune needed to cut its pages.

We have offered and will continue to offer alternative solutions to the board’s proposition. One option that could likely help is cutting circulation. The Tribune currently orders 7,000 copies each issue, but only about 3,000 to 4,000 of them get picked up from the newsstands. This seems like an obvious option to discuss, even if it will only save a little money, and we hope the board will consider this instead of standing firm on the idea of cutting pages.

Though we recognize budget issues as a legitimate concern, we are also concerned that the board could be doing this in part to move toward eliminating print entirely. As it is on most college campuses, print is far more popular than its online counterpart at Marquette, as students tend to pick up papers on the way to class and read about campus news during their downtime. In the midst of hectic schedules, students are not likely to take the initiative to check a website for that very same news. For last Tuesday’s issue alone, The Marquette Tribune website attracted only half as many readers as the number of print copies picked up that day. Moreover, Tuesday’s front-page story received only 83 views online, whereas 3,000 people at least glanced at it when they picked up a print copy. This is not just the case at Marquette, as the Poynter Institute published a report in 2010 citing the same trend at other universities across the country.

In November, journalism Chairwoman Karen Slattery sent a letter to student media board member and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel senior projects editor Greg Borowski containing a response from the journalism faculty to a convergence proposal made by student media managers. (Borowski then passed Slattery’s letter on to the board.) While the student media managers’ proposal focused on the topic of convergence, not budgetary concerns, the letter Slattery sent on behalf of the journalism faculty addressed funding issues anyway.

“Based on our interest in providing students the most real-world experience with student media, supported by budgetary concerns and a desire to equalize funding support among all the media, it is our recommendation as the journalism faculty that Marquette significantly limit printing the Tribune and move to an all-digital format,” Slattery wrote.

It is important to note that student media convergence is a separate conversation from the one that has been taking place on campus and on social media in the past few days. Both Slattery’s letter and the present issue, however, reflect the same underlying concern we have about the future of print. The board and faculty have not acknowledged a link between Wednesday’s suggestion of page cuts and prior urges to move to a digital format, but we nevertheless worry about the possibility. Slattery told the Tribune Monday that she did “not want to jump in” to the board’s decision-making regarding these issues, and we respect that.

There is much value in digital journalism and quality online content. We recognize that and have maintained and improved our website over the last decade. We have sought to add blogs, podcasts and some videos to our site and continue to strive to do so. During the board meeting, however, board member Linda Menck, a College of Communication professional in residence, called the Tribune’s website “an embarrassment.” This is quite far from constructive criticism.

To his credit, board member Patrick Johnson, a College of Communication teaching assistant, was the only voting member of the board Wednesday to discuss the impact the cuts would have on the Tribune’s content. While we disagree with Johnson that “that there are plenty of things” that could be cut, warranting a 50 percent reduction, we do appreciate the attempt to have a discussion about content and quality, something that is being lost in all this. The board can discuss budget numbers all it wants, and it is entirely valid to do so, but quality needs to be discussed with the same urgency to maintain the Tribune’s intrinsic educational value. The Tribune was named the Best All-Around Non Daily Student Newspaper by the Society of Professional Journalists in 2010. We embrace that honor, and we strive to reach that height again. But the countless, late-night hours spent to reach an elite level of journalism are spent in vain when pages are cut. Growth as reporters and editors is cut when pages are cut. In short, the quality of journalism is cut when pages are cut.

In addition to quality, the board is cutting more than just a newspaper by cutting pages. It is cutting hard work, dedication, education and experience. It is cutting an opportunity that acts as a bridge to our futures. People will say reporters can get just as many clips online, but anyone can publish online. This age has proven that anyone can start posting online and call herself or himself a journalist, but Marquette has given us the rare opportunity to publish in print. This opportunity brings with it guaranteed readership, which results in getting more constructive feedback as writers, editors, photographers and designers. We hope that opportunity is never limited or ceased.

We are, again, thankful for everyone who has supported us these past few days. The tweets, letters to the editors and buzz around campus are proof that there is still a place for a strong student newspaper on this campus. The hashtag #LongLiveTheTrib will continue, because we hope that the Trib will live long – in as many pages as possible and in students’ hands twice a week.

  • http://twitter.com/rongiordan Ron Giordan

    I spent many a night all 4 years in the basement at Johnston working on The Trib as well as working on the 2nd and 4th floors with MUTV. I spent 17 years as a news producer and couldn’t have done so without the experiences at both.

    It is interesting to see the trends pointed out by Poynter when it comes to campus papers. One has to wonder, though, how long the trend will hold. If the online format for the Trib were completely mobile friendly and an app created, would you see students using that to get their news updates?

    Good luck! Long Live The Trib!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.s.bartell Sarah Ssb Bartell

    I wouldn’t be where I am today without my experience at the Trib. Students who work at the Trib now are doing exactly what they’ll be doing in a professional newsroom when they graduate. You’ll learn more working for the Trib than you will in any of your Comm classes. Fight the good fight guys. Long live the Trib! – 1998-2002 Trib Alum