FreePFunded: Why we keep saving student newspapers

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We all thought the FreeP was a goner.

Boston University’s Daily Free Press announced Nov. 10 that they had to raise $70,000 in around eight weeks if they wanted to keep printing. The number comes from a gargantuan debt owed to the printer, Turley Publications, that gave the paper an ultimatum earlier this month.

But the paper survived, raising around $82,000 in two days.

With more and more dailies going online (The Seattle Post Intelligencer, for instance), why save a print edition at all? Big-name journalists around the country have said it’s worth saving, including Saba Hamedy of the Los Angeles Times,  Bill O’Reilly of FOX News and David Carr of The New York Times. So how did the Daily Free Press raise over $70,000 in two days? Here’s what the experts are saying:

1.They had already cut down the print presence

The Daily Free Press began printing weekly for the first time since its inception this semester. They developed a design team for the layout and began playing with more inventive ways to print their issue. Originally, the weekly issue was an attempt to curb the mounting printing debt, but the choice may be a smarter choice than the paper originally thought.

Student newspapers around the country have been cutting down on the daily print presence. The University of Oregon’s Daily Emerald prints twice each week and promotes their website first and foremost, a change they explained in a PBS Media Shift story. The Columbia Daily Spectator announced a switch to a weekly print edition in April of this year. To David Carr, New York Times columnist and professor within the College of Communication, weekly printing is far from unreasonable.

“I talked to some of the kids [at the Daily Free Press] and asked them what they were doing to stay relevant, and they said, ‘You know, we knocked our print edition down to once a week, we redesigned to make it more user-friendly…’ It seemed like they were doing everything they were supposed to,” David Carr said.

2. They had pimped out the website

The Daily Free Press didn’t pretend online is irrelevant. Around the time they switched to weekly printing, the student paper redesigned their website to include more exclusive content, longer versions and better multimedia.

Again, the FreeP is following successful trends: The Columbia Daily Spectator moved to 24-hour coverage online alongside weekly printing, the same way the Daily Emerald did two years prior.

“Even if all the weekly issue does is serve as a brochure or a hood ornament for the online website… I think it’s okay,” Carr said.

3. They have a powerful alumni network

Saba Hamedy of the Los Angeles Times has little to nothing in common with FOX News anchor Bill O’Reilly. Except, of course, that they’re both FreePers.

“When I’m stressed, I still go to them for advice or for lead writing,” Hamedy said in the Daily Free Press testimonial video released this week.

Tyler Lay, chairman of the board at Back Bay Publishing (the board of directors at the Daily Free Press), sent out an email to alumni asking for donations at the beginning of FreePFund. When they opened the GoFundMe, a slew of familiar bylines popped up. Hamedy donated to the FreePFund through the GoFundMe. Bill O’Reilly donated $10,000 to the Daily Free Press, the second-largest donation made to the fundraising effort.

“We had a blast, it was just a great experience … I wanted other students at the school to have the same experience I did,” O’Reilly said in an interview with Business Insider.

4. Boston’s a hotbed of journalism

“Boston is, really, a good journalism town,” Carr said. “There’s a hunger in the community for journalism, some of which is embodied in an actual, physical paper.” Historically, this perspective makes sense. The first newspaper printed in the United States was the Boston News-Letter. Benjamin Franklin learned to print in Boston before moving to Philadelphia. The first war correspondence took place during the Revolutionary war. A love of independent journalism may just be in our genes.

5. They stayed independent

“Recent experience has shown that non-independent journalism doesn’t work out very well,” Carr said.

The Daily Free Press is a completely independent newspaper. It receives no funding from the university, and actually pays the university rent for its editing space. The founders of the FreeP thought this principle was crucial, especially considering the campus climate during which it was born. Massive protests on campus turned violent after the Kent State shooting, and the paper decided to report without the sway of the administration.

“It’s a very positive experience when you have a newspaper not run by teachers,” O’Reilly said in the same interview.

 

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