While the majority of the student body may appear relatively unaffected by last year’s recession, The Stanford Daily has not been immune to the trickle-down effects of economic decline. The student-run newspaper suffered a $120,000 loss for fiscal year 2008-2009, a massive contrast to its $200,000 profit just a year earlier.
The Daily’s situation, however, is far from a unique phenomenon. As USA Today put it, “Students working on college newspapers all across America are learning an all-too-real-world lesson: Their papers face the same advertising revenue declines and expense cutbacks as their professional counterparts.”
Revenue for The Daily, which in pre-recessionary times had totaled to roughly $1 million annually, is primarily driven by ads. Local businesses and university ads contribute to about 53 percent of total revenue, and national businesses like Macy’s and Ralph Lauren comprise about 12 percent. However, given the recent economic climate, ad sales have hit a lull. And according to Jason Shen, Chief Operating Officer of The Daily, Stanford’s contribution of $70,000 plus the approximately $58,000 that comes from student fees barely offsets the cost of distribution, let alone the greater cost of printing.
The reality of declining revenue is one that Devin Banerjee, Editor-in-Chief, refuses to comply with. “We can’t just accept the status quo,” said Banerjee, “and [Daily COO Jason and I] are both on the same page of taking risks to try to raise money and cut costs at the same time.”
Already in the current volume, Shen and Banerjee have executed major changes, such as reducing pay for editors and staff writers, cutting the size of the paper from its previous 10-12 pages down to about 6, laying off a long-time layout assistant, eliminating travel expenses for sports reporting of away games, and moving Friday’s Arts and Entertainment section titled Intermission inside the paper as opposed to keeping it a separate entity.
Another option that has been discussed is to reduce the number of days per week that The Daily publishes. According to Banerjee, The Daily Californian at rival school UC Berkeley has already stopped printing papers for Wednesday, and other universities across the country have taken similar measures. He commented that while it would indeed save a lot of money, “it’s sort of central to our identity to stay at five days a week.”
In 2008-2009, The Daily’s expenses were estimated at $860,000, already down from the previous year’s total of $990,000. This year The Daily has cut back even further and now estimates its expenses to be about $777,000.
“We’ve worked really hard to cut costs. We’ve cut in every single department, every single area,” said Shen. Specifically regarding staff compensation, as of this year, desk editors are salaried at $8 an hour with weekly limits to the number of hours they can work; six for News and Features; four and a half for Sports. Staff writers stand to earn $7 for every news article and $5 for sports articles, and they are only entitled to a commission after they have contributed five articles; according to Shen, this number will soon increase to seven. The Editor-in-Chief, both this year and last, earns roughly $8,000 a volume, whereas in the past the sum was somewhere between $11,000 and $16,000.
Banerjee does not believe that the reduction in monetary compensation will in any way affect the willingness of students to contribute to The Daily. “The great thing is that a lot of writers don’t even know they’re going to be paid. People don’t come to work at The Daily, I think, to make money or as a job. There are a lot of other incentives like the byline, the learning process, and the experience for internships or jobs.”
In addition to cutting costs, Shen believes The Daily has other essential agents by which it can increase revenue. “Thinking about our other kinds of assets, we have students who know how to write and edit,” said Shen, who indicated that The Daily might soon adopt a fundraising plan similar to one started by The Harvard Crimson, which recently found it profitable to publish books that outline tips for writing better college admissions essays. The book would be written and edited by the student editorial staff.
Other fundraising goals include hosting a “food day” where The Daily would charge and invite local restaurants to come to campus to solicit and distribute free samples of their dishes. According to Shen, this would be a win-win situation where the students would get free food, the businesses would get better exposure among students, and The Daily would earn a profit just by organizing the event.
Yet the most pressing fundraising idea would be to just sell the paper itself. “One of the things we’re trying to do is to sell subscriptions to parents because they’re one of the few people who’d be willing to pay for the paper.” A parent subscription would be about $34.99 a month for daily delivery, or $21 for weekly. Shen indicated that the best time to push these subscriptions to parents would be during Admit Weekend, Parent’s Weekend, and New Student Orientation.
Despite these lucrative opportunities, Shen indicated that the biggest challenge they would face in seeking additional revenue is an overall unwillingness to pay among businesses and consumers. “The truth is, you have to be really specialized and have something that’s really valuable in order to be able to charge money for it; people are used to getting stuff for free.”