Missourian runs into budget problems

Proposed business models suggest merging with the Columbia Daily Tribune or the Jefferson City News Tribune
Reporters Kelsey Allen and Chris Hamby and Assistant City Editor Sarah Palmer, a former member of The Maneater's staff, work at the city desk at the Columbia Missourian on Monday night. The paper has been in the red for more than a decade and is trying to find another business model.

In the constantly evolving world of modern journalism, one adage remains true: money makes the world go 'round.

The Columbia Missourian, the real-world newspaper that serves as a laboratory for MU School of Journalism students, now faces a deadline to find a working business model. Its faculty hopes to generate revenue from the new Reynolds Journalism Institute.

The Missourian has operated at a deficit for over a decade.

Scott Swafford, a city editor at the Missourian and associate professor of journalism, said Provost Brian Foster put the School of Journalism on notice after efforts to come out of the red were not effective enough.

Neither Dean Mills, the dean of the School of Journalism, nor Tom Warhover, executive editor for innovation at the Missourian, attributes the deficit to any one cause. Mills did, however, cite diminishing funding from the state.

One possible solution is for the Missourian to partner with another publication. So far both the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Jefferson City News Tribune have expressed interest in a partnership in which the Missourian provides the content and the partner provides advertisements and print the newspaper.

Warhover said that if such a deal went through, the content would target MU faculty as a primary demographic. The distribution locations would include faculty and staff mailboxes, free boxes on campus and possibly free boxes throughout Columbia.

While the content would target faculty, it would remain a general interest paper, and the newspaper would be run the same way, and business models involving a partnership will in no way affect the way the editorial aspects of the Missourian function, Swafford said.

"There are things that will be non-negotiable," he said. "We will not give up editorial control."

This new business model could also include less frequent print distributions, but the paper would continue posting news online every day.

Nothing is set in stone, as the Missourian Publishing Association Board is meeting Wednesday morning to address these options. But either way, there is going to be change.

Journalism faculty said this budgetary problem is an example of a larger issue facing print journalism.

"It's a reflection of what is happening to papers on the whole," Mills said. "It's the economic reality that it's hard to support a daily newspaper." 

But Associate Dean of Journalism Brian Brooks said the journalism school is now more important than ever.

"There is an increasing importance for a journalism education," Brooks said. "Someone still has to gather information."

The School of Journalism's newest addition is the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Housed in the old sociology building, it is the result of a $31 million gift from the Reynolds Foundation to the School of Journalism. It had its own financial issues, as construction delays added to the building's original $18.6 million price tag.

"The Sociology Building was built in 1892," Brooks said. "We didn't know about the structural problems until we actually got in there."

The result: an additional $2 million and a year added to the completion date, which was originally 2007.

Mills, however, intends the RJI to generate money.

"The goal is to create a revenue stream from research work, licensing and patenting services," Mills said.

Aside from revenue, RJI also exists for cutting-edge research in journalism such as experimental media and working to better involve citizens in the journalistic process.

"Our mission is to reconnect journalists with the public," Brooks said. "There is a distrust that that the public has that we are trying to work on."

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