Future of UCLA Student Media uncertain due to shrinking budget
The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.
The umbrella organization that incorporates the Daily Bruin, seven news magazines, UCLA Radio and the campus yearbook has failed to make a profit in the past six years. And the recent resignation of Student Media’s adviser has left the future of students’ training and journalism education at UCLA unclear.
Since 2009, the organization has run a deficit of about $100,000 from year to year, said Student Media Director Arvli Ward. The financial challenges have forced the largely student-run organization to implement a number of major cost-cutting measures this year that were initially intended to unfold gradually over several years, Student Media officials said.
In the past year, Student Media laid off three of seven non-student support staff. The Daily Bruin, and some of the other student media publications, made significant adjustments, such as changing printers, cutting the number of issues printed each day, eliminating its Associated Press wire service subscription and switching to a new cloud-based publishing program.
Members of Student Media expressed concerns about the impact of these changes on the future of the organization and the quality of journalism it produces.
About 16 percent of UCLA Student Media’s funding comes from student fees. The rest comes largely from print, online and mobile advertising.
In 2000, The Bruin – Student Media’s largest publication – sold $2.5 million in print advertising, or 84 percent of Student Media’s revenues, Ward said.
Last year, The Bruin sold $870,000 in print advertisements, bringing in about 54 percent of Student Media revenues. Newsmagazines can only spend what they earn, so many of them apply for grants that total 1.2 percent of the organization’s revenue.
In 2008, Student Media held $614,000 in cash reserves, which was used to cover deficits over the years. Now, the organization’s cash reserves sit at about $100,000, Ward said.
Last year, Associated Students UCLA’s space charges for Student Media’s offices and adjacent areas cost the department about $130,000.
To accommodate the changing financial landscape, Student Media increased its focus on new advertising markets, including the development of mobile applications. Still, these strategies have not yet matched losses in print advertising sales, Ward said. Last year, the department brought in about $22,000 in mobile revenues, he added.
UCLA Student Media’s financial struggles parallel circumstances facing collegiate print publications across the country.
About 20 years ago, student newspapers had a monopoly on information distributed through campuses, said Jason Manning, director of Student Media, producer and adviser of The State Press and professor of journalism at Arizona State University. The emergence of the internet has disrupted the popularity of print content and advertisements, Manning said.
College publications across the country have tested different strategies to cope with declining revenues.
In 2008, The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, stopped printing on Wednesdays as a result of its finances.
At Arizona State University, university officials and student media representatives converted their student newspaper, The State Press, from a daily to a weekly paper, said Manning.
The Bruin has not decreased the number of days it prints each week or its newsroom budget, including travel and student stipends, but it has implemented several other cost-cutting measures.
Since April, UCLA Student Media has laid off three members of its career support staff – permanent employees who are not UCLA students, but help with newsroom maintenance and production – because it could not afford to pay their salaries and benefits, Ward said.
In late October, Student Media Adviser Amy Emmert stepped down from her position. Emmert, who worked part time, was asked to come on full time starting in January because Student Media was trying to streamline its operations by reducing the number of employees and giving them more responsibilities, Ward said.
Because the transition period was short and commuting from her home in Claremont on a daily basis would be difficult, Emmert said she decided to resign.
“I would’ve wished for it to happen a different way,” she said. “I had no choice, I felt like I had to leave.”
During Emmert’s time as the Student Media adviser, The Bruin has won a number of national awards and recognitions, including its first Pacemakers, an award that is considered the highest honor in student journalism.
“I worry about the ability of a student newspaper to be able to keep the high quality of journalism that a university campus needs without mentorship and professional backing,” said Farzad Mashhood, editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin in 2010-2011, whose staff received a Pacemaker.
The Student Media adviser’s duties have expanded over the years because of the organization’s declining finances. When she first joined Student Media as an adviser 11 years ago, Emmert was responsible for coordinating training, providing long-range direction, enforcing legal and ethical standards and helping students with career advisement and placement. She also helped with other projects to increase circulation and alumni donations.
Tessa Nath, a third-year English student and editor-in-chief for the Ha’Am newsmagazine, said she was surprised when she heard Emmert was leaving her post. Nath said Emmert was the Ha’Am staff’s best and only source of professional feedback.
“With (Emmert) gone, we don’t get that anymore,” Nath said.
Filling the gap
Next year, Ward said he expects Student Media to have a balanced budget as a result of the layoffs and Emmert’s resignation. Ward said he is still concerned about Student Media’s long-term financial future because print advertising revenues are expected to continue to decline.
The UCLA Communications Board, which oversees UCLA Student Media, is currently determining how to fill the gap that the layoffs and Emmert’s resignation will leave behind, said Erik Pena, the board’s chairman.
Some of the support staff’s responsibilities, including technical support, will be outsourced, Pena said.
Nath and La Gente newsmagazine Editor-in-Chief Michael Reyes said they have not communicated much with UCLA Student Media employees on how they should proceed without an adviser.
The Bruin’s editor-in-chief and other editors will take on some of the adviser’s tasks, said Jillian Beck, current editor-in-chief and fourth-year political science student.
“I don’t feel burdened by (taking on new tasks), the only burden I feel is worrying about the future of Student Media,” Beck said.
Many of Emmert’s roles were intangible – like connections to the professional world as well as experience navigating media law, Beck said.
For the time being, Ward said he plans to work with the UCLA Career Center to create career programming for students involved in Student Media.
Emmert will advise remotely for 10 hours a week until June as a private contractor to ensure the transition goes smoothly, Ward said.
“We believe that this will cover near-term needs as our budget heals, so we can figure out what to do next,” he said.
Student Media eventually wants to hire a programming manager who would be responsible for advising media, creating infrastructure for mobile and digital media, among other responsibilities, Ward said. It is not yet clear when the position will be filled, he said.
Beck said she is concerned that future editors might not have the same level of training and support that current and past staffs benefited from.
“The longer we wait to replace (Emmert), the longer we go without that kind of influence and that kind of education,” she said.
Elena Jarvis, who was the UCLA Student Media adviser from 1998 to 2001, said she couldn’t imagine the Daily Bruin, or any student newspaper, functioning well without an adviser who had prior journalism experience.
“In student media there are so many possible issues … that you really need someone who has navigated them before you,” said Jarvis, currently a professor of journalism and communications at Daytona State College and president of the Florida College System Press Association.
Emmert said she understands the changes Student Media is undertaking and hopes they will be beneficial for Student Media in the long run.
“I do have a lot of hope that when this comes to an end and there is an adviser down the road, as long as that person has a journalism background, things will be okay for the students – maybe even better,” she said.
In the mean time, Ward said he is focused on maintaining the organization’s quality in the face of decreasing funding.
“We’re not going to make millions, I’m sure. But if it comes down to where we only make a few thousand dollars a year, there should still be a Daily Bruin,” Ward said.
Correction: UCLA Student Media newsmagazines and broadcast media did not have their own advisers when Amy Emmert took the position 11 years ago. The adviser was responsible for advising all publications and media.