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UMSL's student newspaper looks to crowdfunding to stay afloat

The Current in the 1960s and today.
courtesy The Current

The student newspaper at the University of Missouri-St. Louis has launched a crowdfunding campaign to keep the paper afloat next school year.

This time last year the student government association declined to give The Current any money from student fees, so the paper now is funded solely through advertising and donations.

  “It’s kind of our last option (to crowdfund),” Editor-in-Chief Anna Glushko said. “Without raising this money, next year we’re going to cease to exist as a paper. As a student newspaper on campus it’s not going to be plausible for us to keep operations going.”

The 2014-2015 school year was The Current’s first year without funding from student fees—a sum that usually accounted for as much as half of their yearly revenue. This year the paper made up the difference with a one-time $20,000 donation from the IT Department.

Glushko said it’s been a struggle this year to make ends meet.

“We only have $1,000 left right now,” she said. “So we’re probably going to have to cut everybody’s salary for the next two months and possibly cut out one or two of the print editions all together.”

Between now and May 2, The Current is hoping to raise at least $10,000 on their crowdfunding site — enough to print one semester’s worth of the weekly paper.

Raising $20,000 would pay a year’s worth of printing costs, and $30,000 would pay for updates to the newsroom and small stipends for student staffers.

Student editors say they need to keep a print edition because it is their main source of ad revenue and it’s the format their readers prefer.

“It just doesn’t have the same feel (online),” Managing Editor Kat Riddler said. “If you go into a job interview or something you can say here is my name in print … It looks better than just giving an employer a hyperlink that may or may not be broken over the years.”

Glushko said that after previous student staffers racked up almost $40,000 in debt, the paper cut down on the number of pages it prints to 8, and now uses color only on the front and back.

“It’s really bare minimum. We pay below minimum wage, just a small thank you for working for us and it’s just for some select positions,” Glushko said. “But also what we did is if we do not have money in the bank — so if we do not have enough to print or pay salaries — we simply stop our operations.”

By this time last year The Current had reduced its debt to about $21,500, but the student government cited the deficit as a reason why it allocated no money to the paper.

A summary of The Current's finances from 2011 to today.
Credit courtesy The Current
A summary of The Current's finances from 2011 to today.

After a failed appeal process, university administrators stepped in and removed the paper from under the student activities umbrella.

“Both groups had very valid points,” UMSL spokesman Bob Samples said. “And so last year the university just moved in to erase the deficit and see what we could do to maintain a newspaper where we wouldn’t have that ongoing conflict.”

Samples said the university might provide some support to The Current, but right now it’s waiting to see what kind of budget and funding the paper comes up with on its own.

“We’ve asked them to put together a realistic budget based on advertising, fundraising, to determine what campus assistance maybe would be needed to keep a vibrant newspaper going on campus,” he explained.

Five years ago the paper was able to make as much as $75,000 from ad sales, but as the recession hit ad sales declined to an average of $20,000 a year.

Glushko said that trend continued this year. The Current has sold almost $21,000 in ads this year, but not all of those ads have been paid for yet.

“It’s really difficult and challenging for students who are not business majors to sell ads because we have face so much no, so much rejection. And that’s especially frustrating because first of all we’re trying to sell ads to university departments,” Glushko said.

The university provided the paper with a business adviser this year and paired The Current with a business class to come up with a budget.

“The group in there right now has done a very good job this year,” Samples said. “So they inherited some deficits, it wasn’t the students that are there now but we want to make sure it stays a well-run organization going forward.”

University administrators and student staffers had a meeting a few weeks ago, and Glushko said she is working on scheduling another one now that they’ve submitted their budget.

“I feel like the wheels are turning and hopefully there will be a difference. But just like last year, (the administration is) trying to see if we (can) operate independently,” she said.

Whether independent or university-supported, Glushko said it’s vital that The Current continues to provide a voice for the students.

“We’re really one of the few agencies that can provide unbiased news coverage to UMSL students. We don’t just report positive things that UMSL goes through,” she said. “We don’t just report positive things that UMSL goes through, that the community goes through. We also are going to shed light on the truth. So it’s not just going to be good stuff, but if ugly stuff is there it’s going to get some spotlight as well.”

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.