The final Friday – an interview with UMass Amherst Daily Collegian EIC Katie Landeck

The Daily Collegian's final Friday edition, featuring a cover story on local beer brewers, ran last week.

The Daily Collegian’s final Friday edition, featuring a cover story on local beer brewers, ran last week.

Looks like “real world” newspapers aren’t the only ones taking a hit due to shrinking ad revenue.

This week, the UMass Amherst Daily Collegian ran its final Friday edition, ending a decades-long tradition of publishing its paper all five weekdays.

“Between the loan the newspaper has to pay off to the Student Government Association, the cost of printing and a decline in Friday’s advertising revenue,” Collegian EIC Katie Landeck writes in a letter from the editor published Friday, “we just couldn’t afford to keep printing it in the long term.” The Collegian is fully independent, relying on ad money exclusively.

Response from the UMass community – both current and former students – has been mixed. Some are supportive and understanding of the move:

“As a former Editor-in-Chief,” writes one commenter. “I can understand how difficult this decision was to make. I can also understand the pressures the Collegian faces to remain independent, and financially solvent in a world where print media is dying. When my executive board made the decision to accept funding from the SGA we were attempting to correct years of poor financial decisions, and rapidly shrinking advertising revenue.”

Others have taken the opportunity to decry the inevitable demise of print media less eloquently: “Not surprised,” writes another commenter. “News is dead.”

But Landeck is undeterred by the decision her e-board begrudgingly reached after what she called “months of debate.” She says she’s a news reporter, and always will be, even as the so-called death of newspapers has hit home.

You say in a letter from the editor that you applied to UMass because you wanted to work for a daily newspaper. What attracted you to the idea of campus daily?

I have been telling people since I was seven that when I grew up I was going to be a reporter. And at the age of seven, a reporter was somebody who worked for a newspaper. When it came time to apply for colleges, I was still thinking the exact same way. I don’t know if you have ever been to UMass or not, but it’s a pretty ugly campus. I had been telling people years I would go to any college that was not UMass. But on my visit, my mother made the calculated move of bringing me to the Collegian offices. She said it was the happiest I looked at any college I visited. Working for a daily was so important to me because I wanted to have some clue as to what the real world of journalism would be like, and the real world published daily.

When did your staff first start talking about cutting the Friday paper, and what were the signs you were starting to see? What was the final straw, so to speak, that led to your e-board’s decision?

Around February our business room came out with this chart, and it showed our revenue just plummeting. Down down down. It’s a really depressing graph. At the same time we were shown the graph the business room unveiled their master plan: we would cut the Friday paper which only makes 8 percent of our total revenue (we are funded entirely by ads) and save $32,000. Enough to keep the rest of the paper afloat no problem. The people who work on our finances were sure this was the way to go from the beginning. The people who work more in print – like me – were not as sure. I spent months  trying to find ways around it. We talked about just cutting circulation. We talked about doing a once a month magazine version of the tabloid (that would not be printed on glossy paper, but on tabloid style newspaper) that could focus on certain things like health and beauty to try to target those businesses to raise advertising revenue. We talked about salary cuts. We tried to come up with more ideas. But every idea we came up with, we realized was a long shot and would hard to effectively implement. So eventually, we just had to cut it.

You also say in your letter that there were arguments on both sides of the issue – those for the move and those opposed to it. What were the arguments for keeping the Friday edition?

There are so many reasons to keep the Friday paper. News breaks on Thursday. This year we had two rape stories break on a Thursday as well as a student death. If that happens again, we will be forced to cover it online and redraft for print later (which is common in the industry but not ideal). We could have kept it so that we remain a true daily. We could have kept it to keep the legacy going. We could have kept it to keep our hiring process the same (the sections usually have four assistants. Now they will have three thus eliminating a spot). The only reason to get rid of it was the finances.

Have you heard from any alums about the move? What have they been saying?

The alumni have been very kind. I have gotten emails from a few of them and lots of comments on the letter, and they have all been supportive and understanding. No one has blamed us or criticized us for the decision. In fact, almost all of them have told me not to blame myself.

What kind of role does the Collegian play in the lives of UMass students, and do you worry about the relationship between the paper and students changing?

That is a really good question and one I haven’t thought much about. I’m not sure. All I can do is hope they keep reading I guess.

Why do you think so many college dailies are having to cut down on their print run? Do you expect this trend to continue?

College dailies have changed their print schedule for several reasons. Last year out west, one paper switched from a daily to twice a week with a greater focus on web, not because of finances but because they wanted to have the time to put a greater emphasis on web. The editor of the local paper actually advised me to cut the Friday paper regardless of finances, saying that student newspapers should be focused on figuring out innovative ways to use the web. In my experience so far, running a website effectively is all based on how well you use social media. Without effective use of social media, no one will ever know you exist. And even with social media, the paper version is still your best advertisement for yourself.

As far as if other papers will continue to reduce their printing schedules, it’s possible. But it all depends on who you are and how you’re funded. For example, my best friend from high school is an editor at the Crimson at Harvard. I would be shocked if they cut their printing schedule. But if another state school did it, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. However, I don’t think the reason they cut it would necessarily be finances. It might be because they want to experiment with the web model.

Do your career aspirations include working for a newspaper? Does this shift have you rethinking a possible future in print?

I actually work with both print and radio. I was at a print journalist conference last year, and for some reason they decided to do a big seminar on radio. Why they did in that did that in a room of print people, I’m not sure. But I feel in love with it, and I now intern at my local NPR affiliate. So, I would do either job.

This summer, I am actually working in New Mexico at a print newspaper. It’s at a boy scout camp though, so I’m not sure if I count it as a newspaper or a newsletter. They call it a newspaper.

The Friday paper situation doesn’t change what I want to do. I am a news writer. I want to tell people’s stories. And, I think there will always be a place to do that.

Follow Katie on Twitter at @KatieLandeck

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About spencerbuell

Editor-in-Chief, The Gatepost student newspaper at Framingham State University.
This entry was posted in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The final Friday – an interview with UMass Amherst Daily Collegian EIC Katie Landeck

  1. mobrienweiss says:

    Good interview Spencer. This is such a sad development for my college newspaper, the place where I wrote my first news story. I understand the decision — it makes economic sense — but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

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