Daily Cal in Financial Trouble

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 28, 2008 - 09:17:00 AM

UC Berkeley students might have noticed something missing from campus when they returned from their summer vacation on Wednesday. 

The university’s 137-year-old independent student newspaper announced Monday that it would stop publishing on Wednesdays starting this week, and scale back staff to brace against declining print advertising revenue. 

It will keep publishing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and maintain an online edition throughout the week. 

Editor in Chief and President of the Daily Californian Bryan Thomas informed readers through an online post that the paper was in a difficult financial condition and would be implementing a number of changes with the beginning of the fall semester. 

“Falling print advertising revenue coupled with steadily rising costs are affecting newspapers across the nation and those effects have, without question, reached Berkeley,” Thomas wrote. “The Daily Cal is certainly unique in Berkeley, functioning as an entirely student-produced publication which is financially and editorially independent from the University of California. But it is not immune to the tides of change. The good news is that we will not be compromising the quality or integrity of our award-winning journalism.” 

The newspaper will be stepping up efforts to strengthen online coverage through new blogs and multimedia content five days a week with the intention of gradually moving closer to the 24-hour news cycle. 

“Our first responsibility is to train journalists for a 24-hour medium,” Thomas said. “That’s what the industry is looking for—skills in multimedia. We will be equipping staff to be ready, to be out there and to be the best-trained journalists. Since UC Berkeley doesn’t have an undergraduate program, we are basically it.” 

UC Berkeley’s Director of School Affairs at the Graduate School of Journalism Robert Gunnison said he was not surprised by the Daily Cal’s decision to cut publication and focus on web content. 

“It seems consistent with many of the things happening in print journalism today,” he said. “If you ask young people where they are getting their news from they will say online. So why not in The Daily Cal? Newspapers today have a technology problem and a production problem. Going online is certainly the long-term trend. For papers like the Daily Cal and the Berkeley Daily Planet, which focus on community, the web is the way of creating community.” 

The decision to cut publication by a day and reduce newsroom staff and compensation, Thomas said, was made around July when the paper started seeing a dip in national and local advertising over the summer. 

“As a nonprofit we do operate on a slim margin but we had some pretty big concerns from March through June with advertising dollars going elsewhere,” he told the Planet. “So we started drilling down and looking at everything we could do. We decided not to publish on Wednesdays to keep as minimum an impact as we can. A lot of sports coverage happens around the weekend, so you want students to be able to pick up a paper on Mondays and Tuesdays.” 

The paper gets almost 20 percent of its revenue from national advertisers who work through national college agencies, Thomas said, and local advertisers make up the next biggest chunk. 

Alumni fundraisers also help to sustain the paper’s budget, and the paper is getting ready to launch an endowment campaign this year. 

“We have talked to the university about fundraising and directing advertising dollars to us, but they don’t have a lot to go around either,” Thomas said. “They have expressed interest, but they know that we really pride ourselves on our independence and they are proud of us because of that too.” 

Published by the Independent Berkeley Students Publishing Company, the Daily Californian is a nonprofit that publishes 10,000 issues four days a week during the fall and spring semesters and twice a week during the summer. 

Established in 1871, the newspaper is one of the oldest on the West Coast and one of the oldest college newspapers in the country, serving the UC Berkeley and its surrounding community. 

The university’s attempt to fire three editors because of a controversial editorial on People’s Park paved the way for its independence in 1971. The offices of the Daily Cal operate out of a building on the south side of campus, which is leased from the university’s student government body. The paper is printed in Union City. 

Thomas said that although he couldn’t reveal the exact printing or production costs for the paper, they have been increasing over the years. 

The newspaper’s $1 million annual budget will see a decline this year, he said, but he could not give specifics on how much it might decline. 

“The next few weeks have usually been our strongest, with advertisers reaching out to students who are coming back to school,” he said. “We really have to look at that and figure out our next steps. It could get better or it could get worse.” 

The paper, which usually employs 150 students at any given time, will be cutting almost 25 percent of its newsroom staff—including reporters, photographers and designers—but will not eliminate any of its 13 editor positions. 

Ashley Chase, editor in chief of the Daily Emerald—the independent student newspaper of the University of Oregon—said the Eugene-based paper was facing a similar situation. 

“Our revenues have gone down, and we are scaling back quite a bit,” she said of the 45-employee newsroom. “There has been a 20 percent decline in the newsroom budget, and we are offsetting costs by eliminating a couple of positions, adjusting our pay scale and moving toward a paperless newsroom. We are still publishing our regular schedule of five days a week, but we are working on updating our online content.” 

Several hundred students apply for jobs at the Daily Californian every year, out of which only 50 or so are selected to work on the paper. 

“That’s why it’s even more unfortunate,” Thomas said. “We know hundreds of students will be applying this year but we won’t be able to offer them jobs. In the spring we accepted 50 of 200 applicants. In the fall, it was closer to about 60 of 250.” 

The $8 to $15 reporters are paid per article will also be reduced, but to what amount has yet to be decided, Thomas said. 

He added that the paper had witnessed budget constraints in the past as well. In 1993, the Daily Cal went from publishing three days a week to two because of poor financial management before building back to five days a week, and in 2001 it ran into debt. 

“We have been in debt in the past, but we are not in debt right now,” Thomas said. “This is definitely not the worst we have been in.”