The Montana Kaimin will cut its print edition from four issues to a weekly publication to address ongoing budget problems and a projected shortfall, according to officials with the Associated Students of the University of Montana.
"They're really working responsibly to leave this organization in a good spot for the next students who come through," said Marlene Hendrickson, fund accountant with the ASUM administration. "They're trying to be good stewards."
A recent budget projection put the Kaimin in the red, and staff of the campus news outlet made the decision to print once a week after holding an emergency meeting Monday night, Hendrickson said.
She said the deficit was estimated to be anywhere from $20,000 to $27,000 at the end of the semester.
"It didn't matter if it was $27,000 or $20,000, it wasn't zero. It wasn't even close to zero," Hendrickson said.
The Kaimin has been the student newspaper of the University of Montana since 1898 and is housed in the School of Journalism. Its company overview states it publishes online daily and in print four times a week.
Kaimin staff stayed mostly mum Tuesday on the coming changes. Online at montanakaimin.com, a banner under the logo said, "The Kaimin will not publish today, more information will follow in Wednesday's print edition."
Editor Ric Sanchez declined Tuesday to confirm the Kaimin was going to a weekly print edition or to discuss its finances. However, he said the Kaimin would provide details in print Wednesday, and he said reporters would continue to produce the same amount of content.
"We're not going to be scaling back our news production at all," Sanchez said.
The Kaimin isn't alone in its apparent shift to a weekly format, as campus publications are not immune from cutbacks in the journalism industry in recent years, according to Rick Edmonds, media business analyst with the Poynter Institute.
Based in Florida, Poynter has a mission to be a global leader in journalism and be a resource for those aspiring to inform citizens in the 21st century.
In some cases, Edmonds said, a campus newspaper with smaller distribution might feel the financial hit even more acutely when it comes to advertising dollars.
"If they're not reaching as big an audience, it may be a tougher sell to advertisers," Edmonds said.
At the same time, many readers, especially in the college demographic, get their news digitally, Edmonds said. College newspapers have different structures, he said, but on some campuses, readers aren't picking up even free hard copies of newspapers because they're reading stories online.
So it makes sense for a campus paper that's having a tough time financially to shift focus to its digital presentation, he said. In fact, a college newspaper that focuses on print may be doing its students a disservice.
"You could argue that's no longer the best kind of experience to prepare students today for the kinds of jobs that are out there," Edmonds said. "So developing the ability to do news digitally will certainly be a plus at that, the motivation of some of the students at getting their early experience for careers in media."
The Kaimin ended the 2014 fiscal year in the hole, and one of the first things ASUM did last fall was vote to cover the shortfall, said Asa Hohman, ASUM president. According to the fund accountant, ASUM loaned the newspaper $25,000 to shore up its budget.
"It was controversial among the senators, whether we should be getting them out of that tough spot," Hohman said.
The Kaimin is funded primarily by student fees and advertising dollars, according to the ASUM accountant. A dip in enrollment means less income from student fees, and advertising revenue has fallen as well, from $140,000 in 2012 to $82,378 in 2014, according to an ASUM budget comparison.
At the time of the budget request to ASUM, the Kaimin said the rising costs of payroll and printing had hurt its bottom line, Hohman said. In response, ASUM approved the loan and also suggested cutting back the print edition.
"We encouraged them to cut it back to three days a week. So now it seems they're going down to one day a week," Hohman said.
He learned of the change Tuesday from seeing Kaimin staff posts on Facebook.
Last fall, ASUM also approved a resolution to place a measure on the school's spring ballot asking students to increase a fee that supports the Montana Kaimin. The resolution requests a $1 bump and notes the Kaimin is free and employs some 50 students.
"They ask for this increase for the purposes of modernizing the technology of the organization, maintaining necessary reserves, meeting increases in student wages, and continuing to provide students with a free newspaper dedicated to covering issues important to the University of Montana," reads the resolution.
Students will take up this measure and others the last two days of April, Hendrickson said. If the student body approves the measure, she said, turnout must hit 12 percent for ratification; it is possible the Montana Board of Regents could support the increase even with a lower turnout.
When reached for comment, Larry Abramson, dean of the UM School of Journalism, said he did not know the Kaimin had decided not to print its Tuesday edition. In a subsequent statement, Abramson lent the students at the independent newspaper his full support.
"Staffers determine the direction of the paper," Abramson said. "One of the great things about journalism education at UM is that students learn by doing.
"That’s what the Kaimin is experiencing right now. I fully support them in their efforts to keep the Kaimin strong.”