The longtime student newspaper at Webster University, the Journal, was facing an uncertain future this spring as the administration’s budget ax was about to swing.
The weekly Journal, reporting on its own chances of survival, said its 30 issues a year might be cut to four or five in the 2015 budget, and the number of student staffers receiving pay could be cut from 10 to two.
Some students and faculty believe the administration is upset over controversial stories the Journal has done, and one way of putting a clamp on the upstart newspaper is through the budget. But this is disputed by Webster’s public relations spokesman, Patrick Giblin.
Eric Rothenbuhler, dean of the School of Communications, said in an email to Gateway Journalism Review March 31 that “the budget plans are still under discussion.” He added that when the university’s board of trustees finally approves the cuts in May, the story will be about “what we are doing to improve our journalism program and the student media here at Webster.”
The Journal has reported that Webster has predicted a budget shortfall for the second year in a row, and that the 2015 budget needs to be reduced by $6 million from last year’s budget. Webster’s total budget for the 2014 year was $221.4 million, with 95 percent of revenue coming from tuition. Webster has struggled with declining enrollments over the past few years, according to Journal stories.
Cuts also would be made for the Ampersand student magazine and the Galaxy student radio station. But the Journal cuts have aroused the most opposition among students, faculty and media advisers, causing a large turnout at a Student Government Association meeting in March.
Rothenbuhler told the Journal that when students heard about the proposed cuts, “it was unfortunate, but it happened.” He said his plan was to make the School of Communications “more digitally oriented” so as to follow other universities that are moving to digital student media.
“It is possible to save a little money on printing and shift some resources from print to digital,” Rothenbuhler was quoted as saying.
The faculty adviser for the Journal, Larry Baden, said the budget cuts proposed by Rothenbuhler would cut the Journal’s printing budget, going from about $30,000 a year to $5,000 a year, thereby reducing the number of issues to four or five.
“I’m greatly concerned,” Baden said. “It’s important there be a printed newspaper, and that people have access to it.”
He said he was not in favor of switching the Journal’s reporting to mainly digital media, because he believes not as many readers would go online. He also said he thinks the newspaper provides a better opportunity for the student journalists to learn about reporting, editing and layout.
Gabe Burns, a junior, will become the Journal’s editor-in-chief next year, but he wonders how he will be able to put together a staff if the budget cuts are made.
“It will severely hurt the program,” Burns said.
He noted that the Journal pulls in about $27,000 a year in advertising, with 70 percent going back to the university. He said he’s also concerned that most of the paid positions will be eliminated.
“It’s more than just the money,” Burns said of his newspaper experience. “It helps my education.”
He said the Journal is respected by students, faculty and university employees, and it keeps the campus community informed and entertained.
When asked if he thought the cuts might be less severe, Burns replied, “I’m hopeful, but not optimistic.”
Some believe the Journal’s aggressive reporting have made it a target. Here are some stories that may have rankled school officials:
- The university bought replacement homes to house its president, Elizabeth Stroble, and its provost, Julian Schuster, costing $935,000 and $385,000, respectively.
- The university spent heavily to establish a chess team by luring grandmaster Susan Polgar and her team from Texas Tech.
- Funding was found for two associate dean positions in the School of Communications.
- A professor at the Geneva campus of Webster University was charged, along with three others, in the slaying of a man in California. She is in custody awaiting trial.
Some observers think the Journal is quick to shine an unfavorable light on the administration, but they add that administration officials are too thin-skinned and can’t tolerate criticism. Rothenbuhler, who students think is not well-versed in newspapering, and Baden have been at loggerheads, with Rothenbuhler coming to the Journal office to voice his concerns regarding stories.
Baden said there often is contention between university student newspapers and school officials.
“I’ve been assured that this (controversial stories) has nothing to do with what’s being proposed,” he said. “I’m hopeful that’s the case.”