College newspapers fade as budgets change

by May 5, 2010 12:00 am

Angelo Lanham

Junior college newspapers in the Bay Area undergo rapid changes each semester, according to a former student president of the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

"Although a certain percentage of students (at community colleges) will be very interested (in journalism), it usually doesn't reflect the larger student body," William Cooley said.

Cooley, a senior photojournalism major at SJSU, said he was student president of the association from 2007 to 2008 while attending Santa Rosa Junior College.

Junior college newspapers are greatly affected by budget fluctuations, he said.

He said funding for college newspapers usually comes from a stipend of varying value from the state, advertisements the papers sell and from school budgets.

"Some schools, because of budget cuts, have sought to take money away from programs or to decrease those stipends," he said. "That has an impact."

Budget cuts have created an influx of non-journalism students joining the junior college paper because of other programs being cut, Cooley said.

"It provides them an opportunity to gain general ed units that they can apply to their studies," he said. "In the past, a lot of people were like, 'Oh, I don't want to take journalism. I'll take something else.' Well, if that something else is full or is not offered at all anymore, journalism becomes a viable opportunity for students."

The performance of a newspaper can affect whether it will stay or be eliminated, he said.

"When a newspaper on a community college campus is perceived as either unethical, or a waste of money, or the students are doing a very unprofessional job, it creates a climate in which cutting the newspaper is not a hard decision," he said.

Ohlone College

At Ohlone College in Fremont, the budget isn't the only issue affecting the paper's survival, according to the paper's adviser.

"They're hiring someone at 60 percent, a part-timer, to be the adviser of the newspaper," said Bill Parks, who is retiring after 15 years.

Parks said he isn't sure if "Midnight," Ohlone's student-run magazine, will continue.

"There's never been a regular budget for the magazine," he said. "We've sold ads and scrounged in order to pay for the magazine."

Parks said there will most likely be fewer editions of the Ohlone College Monitor, the school newspaper, next semester.

"There will be more (editions) online," he said. "It's such a struggle getting the print edition out. We've never quite made it up to the next level where the online edition then becomes the lead. I'm hoping that will happen under the new (adviser)."

Parks said community college papers need to be modeled after what's happening in the journalism industry.

"And what's going on in the business is that newspapers are going broke," he said. "The money isn't there. They're doing more online. For better or for worse, I think that's the way the Monitor will go and needs to go."

He said enrollment in the newspaper has been through the roof, but he echoed Cooley's earlier statements on increased enrollment because of a lack of classes.

"Because there's so many other classes that are closed, they've cut back on so many other classes, we had standing room only in here on the first day of class," he said. "Enrollment isn't a problem. Class availability is a problem."

Manika Casterline, a sophomore at Ohlone and news editor for the Monitor, said Ohlone and the Monitor are affected by the budget.

"This particular college is facing a $2.6 million budget deficit," she said. "In terms of journalism classes, we're getting people who aren't as committed in terms of (the) newspaper. It's more like they need to take a journalism class or whatever to fulfill requirements."

Casterline said she is worried about the state of the newspaper once Parks is gone.

"I'm concerned about the future of this particular paper just because I feel so deeply invested in it," she said. "I really would like to continue on (at the Monitor). I just don't really know, because the future's really uncertain right now as to what direction a new adviser would want to go in."

Parks said the Monitor won't go away with his departure.

"The administration on this campus like the Monitor," he said.

Chabot College

A similar situation has affected how the paper is run at Chabot College in Hayward, adviser Jeanie Wakeland said.

"The previous (adviser, Bill Johnson) retired this fall," she said. "He was supposed to come back and teach the newspaper this spring but he had some medical issues."

Wakeland said she isn't a stranger to Chabot.

"This is my fourth time replacing him since 1996 for either sabbaticals or medical issues," she said.

Wakeland said budget issues are affecting content for the Chabot Spectator.

"For me this semester, a lot of it has been paying attention to our finances," she said. "We had a long-standing bill amount of money owed to our printer because of some budget issues in terms of how much the state was going to give the colleges. That delayed any appropriations for printing."

Wakeland said the Spectator, which has been a weekly paper since 1989, will be undergoing some changes.

"Next semester, we are very likely to have to go every other week because, right now, this college has at least a $2 million deficit and they're making cuts everywhere," she said.

A further switch to more online journalism will change things too, Wakeland said.

"It'll be like teaching two classes, in a sense, because there's just different ways of doing online journalism," she said.

Wakeland said the paper will survive because of the dean of the department.

"Our dean is a former publisher, so he fights for us," she said.

Abraham Rodriguez, managing editor for the Spectator, said its design has been changing a lot this semester after a critique of the paper at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges conference by a designer from the Orange County Register.

"From then on, we're just changing stuff around," Rodriguez said. "We're experimenting a lot."

Jack Barnwell, the editor-in-chief of the Spectator who plans to transfer to SJSU as a photojournalism major next semester, said they aren't afraid to play with the design of the Spectator.

"We try to find the best way to present an article," he said.

Rodriguez said switching from a weekly to a bi-monthly paper will change the way they work.

"It'd be kind of a letdown," he said. "It wouldn't be like the real experience that you'd get at a publication."

Las Positas College

One paper that is thriving in this market, according to its adviser, is Las Positas College in Livermore.

"Funding is not down," said Melissa Korber. "We have a fantastic advertising manager and we actually have more advertising money than we've ever had."

Korber said advertising money has allowed them to do many new things at the Las Positas Express.

"We bought a bunch of Flip video cameras," she said. "We just got back from the JACC convention and, for the first time ever, we actually paid for people's plane tickets down."

Korber said things weren't like this in past years.

"A few years back, some of our funding was cut," she said. "But we've moved beyond that point where the budget is impacting us."

The same isn't true of Las Positas College itself, which Korber said is experiencing a budget deficit of $1 million.

Because of the deficit, Korber said the enrollment at the Express has fluctuated, similar to that at Ohlone and Chabot.

"I think that's what happened last spring," she said. "I think a lot of students enrolled in the classes because there weren't that many offerings. We had a really full newspaper staff."

Rich Cameron, the communications director and secretary for the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, stated in an e-mail that colleges need to realize that college papers are important.

"It is a tough chore sometimes to remind schools that the newspaper is more than a class," Cameron stated. "It is an integral component of the student community of the college."

Cameron stated most junior college papers are doing fine.

"We've seen some papers go under when a faculty member retires and is not replaced, and (we've seen) some threatened when content of the paper becomes uncomfortable for administrators," he stated. "There certainly are some programs that are facing First Amendment issues that we're working with, and there are some that are on the brink because of low enrollments, but for the most part papers are surviving."

Back at Ohlone, Bill Parks said he thought he did some good for the students he taught.

"I had a lot of fun," he said.

Donovan Farnham contributed to this story.

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