By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Journalists aren't that good at math.
That's why they choose to spend their careers writing instead of crunching numbers.
But math is as important to journalism as crisp prose. Without it, there wouldn't be a newspaper business, and as every good reporter knows, adding and subtracting numbers -- especially numbers involving dollars -- usually leads to a good story.
In this case, though, it led to a bad one.
The journalism department at Metropolitan State College didn't pay enough attention to its own dollar figures, says department chair Kenn Bisio, and that resulted in the demise of the Capitol Reporter -- a student-run weekly newspaper that covered the state legislature for four months every year.
"The spring semester of 1999 was its tenth year," says Bisio, who has chaired the department for a little over a year. "It was established so that the funding was supposed to get less every year, and eventually it was supposed to be self-sufficient. But that never happened. Why? I don't know. This might sound bad, but if we were good stewards of the money, maybe we could have avoided something like this."
According to Bisio, the paper was making more from subscriptions (about $5,300 a year) than it was from advertising revenue (about $3,200) -- a sure sign of a disappointing bottom line, since most newspapers rely on ad revenues to stay afloat. Since the Capitol Reporter usually published eighteen times a year, that translated to revenues of about $472 an issue, compared to the $7,222 an issue (or $130,000 annually) that Metro claims it was spending on the paper. "If I'm the president of the college and I see that, I'd have cut the thing, too," Bisio says. "Pragmatically, I can see it. Has it hurt? Yeah. Will we survive? Yeah."
The balance sheet didn't include a line item for the paper's value at the State Capitol, where it enjoyed a good reputation and was read by lawmakers, government employees and lobbyists alike. Nor did it take into account the publication's fans at Metro and at journalism departments across the country, as one of only two student publications nationwide to watchdog local lawmakers. But despite the Capitol Reporter's popularity, the real numbers crunchers in Metro's administration -- the ones who do pay attention -- decided last May that the paper had to go.
Debbie Thomas, a Metro spokeswoman, says the funding was denied because a temporary drop in enrollment forced the college to make cuts. "Our revenue sources come from two places," she explains, "the tuition and fees that students pay and the money we get from state government. Both are dependent on the number of students in enrollment. If we have a dip in enrollment, which we did a year ago this summer, we take a double hit." Because of that enrollment drop, Metro cut $1 million from its budget this year.
"What really became the issue at the Capitol Reporter -- which was a great publication and hopefully will be again -- is that it just didn't wash out," she adds. "We aren't driven by making a profit, and because of that, we are constantly looking at budgets, but there's not a tendency to cut programs unless you have to. We had to last year. The cost of putting out the publication had increased over time and, really, only a small number of students were benefiting from it." And then there was the fact that the Capitol Reporter had originally been slated to become self-sufficient by 1991.
Over the past two years, the number of students working on the paper had dropped from nearly thirty to only twelve, partially because the journalism department didn't do enough recruiting, Bisio says, and partially because Metro cut the number of full-time faculty in the department from five to three.
But the final decision to kill the Capitol Reporter, which was made in the office of college president Sheila Kaplan earlier this month, surprised many of the people involved with the newspaper. Not only was it the only program that was cut in its entirety, but a last-ditch effort to save it had been reported as having been successful.
When news of the Capitol Reporter's shaky status first surfaced this past spring, two local professional associations offered grants to keep it going. The state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists pledged a $5,000 endowment, but that meant the Capitol Reportercould use only the interest from that money; the Colorado Press Association offered another $5,000, but only if the Capitol Reporter continued to put out a printed version -- an impossibility this year, Bisio says.
He turned down both offers. They were made with "good heart," he says, but with too many strings attached.
Bisio would like to spend the next year devising a three- to five-year business plan for a new student-run newspaper and then present it to Metro's administration. "This was a great educational tool for the students," he says, "and I'll work on getting, if not the Capitol Reporter, then another newspaper back in the department. I'm an eternal optimist. Do I think it's dead and gone forever? No. I would like to see us come back in spring 2001 with a spring, summer and fall paper."