Task force examines ways to fix The Collegian’s financial troubles

Previous issues of the Collegian Newspaper stored in the newsroom. (Razmik Cañas/The Collegian)

The Collegian Financial Task Force examined the student newspaper’s future on Tuesday in an open meeting where several recommendations were made.

At the core of the meeting’s purpose is moving The Collegian into a fiscally secure position.

“Our revenues this year are down about 25 percent from a year ago and we continue to experience higher payroll costs as the minimum wage increases,” said Cheryl Carlson, financial manager for The Collegian.

Carlson presented the financial projections during the task force meeting. The task force, which has met at least once before and is made up of faculty from the media, communications and journalism department, was created to reform the business model of The Collegian.

“We began the year with a positive fund balance carryover of $13,382. Assuming all my projections are on target, expenditures for this year will exceed revenue by $54,596, leaving The Collegian with a negative fund balance carryover of $41,213 going into this next school year,” Carlson said.

Several factors have caused financial strain for the publication – a fixed student fee, a decline in advertising revenue and an increase in minimum wage, as outlined by Carlson.

Among the solutions that Carlson proposed to remedy the financial woes were eliminating the printed version of The Collegian and publishing online content only; cutting the print product to once a week rather than twice; and printing only special issues.

Cutting back in print and migrating fully online was a solution seen as potentially cutting back on paid student hours. But MCJ professor Jim Boren said online-only work would not remedy that too much.

“If we go online only, there will still be the same amount of work being done because articles will still be going online,” Boren said.

Collegian supplements such as La Voz de Aztlán, the Asian Pacific Review, Uhuru Na Umoja and Hye Sharzhoom would still be printed, Carlson added.  

Currently, 28.5 percent of Collegian advertising revenue is from online advertisements and 71.5 percent is from print. Collegian advertising faculty adviser Jan Edwards proposed that supplements could start including advertisements, which would create another flow of revenue. La Voz de Aztlán faculty adviser Victor Torres, who attended the meeting, agreed.

Carlson also suggested reducing funding used for The Collegian’s pre-semester bootcamp, Collegian apparel, traveling and replacing equipment.

“It is possible to maintain … and realize a net profit and a positive fund balance if we make certain changes,” Carlson said.

At times, it appeared during the discussion that reversing decisions made in the past was the answer to lifting the financial burden on The Collegian.

Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities Department initially funded the salaries for the publication’s two advisers – editorial and advertising – but that changed in 2008 when salaries for the advisers started coming out of Collegian funds.  

That switch was initially intended to last one to two years, but the salaries continue to come out of Collegian funds to this date. Since then, about $171,000 has been spent on adviser salaries, according to Rich Marshall, The Collegian’s general manager.  

Carlson proposed that if The Collegian does not fund advisers’ salaries and only publishes online, the publication could see a profit of $43,700 in 2018-19, which would get the publication out of its financial red zone.

The Collegian could see a profit of $45,478 next year if the publication were to print once a week, and if only special issues were printed, there would be a $51,084 profit – both projections exclude paying Collegian advisers.

“If you do include the advisers’ salaries, it is possible to pull a profit in [2018-19],” Carlson said. “You’re probably going to need to make a greater cut in the staff hours though.”

Over the years, editors of The Collegian have had to reduce the amount of hours staff is allowed to work in order to alleviate the cost of paying staffers.

“If we continue as we are now, we’re ending the year in the red and will continue to go further in the red, and at some point that can’t be sustained,” Carlson said.

The task force members voted unanimously at the end of the meeting to send proposed solutions to Fresno State’s Arts and Humanities Dean Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval for action.

Those proposed solutions are: printing only once a week; reducing print issues to 3,000 instead of the current 3,500; including advertisements in Collegian supplements and digital products; restructuring how staffers are paid, with the recommendation of cutting the staff pay budget by 25 percent; and funding Collegian advisers’ salaries through the Arts and Humanities department.

Collegian staff reporters Bineet Kaur and Jorge Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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