Feeling the pinch, college media trade groups collaborate to improve and survive
Student editors attending the National College Media Convention held in Louisville, Kentucky, this past fall had something new on the catalogue of sessions on offer: workshops on how to help their newspapers make money.
In addition to the usual sessions about writing leads, covering hostile administrators and finding stories on campus, one conference room of the two dozen at the convention was entirely devoted to sessions with titles like “Build a Successful Sponsored Content Team,” “New Monetization Strategies for Student Media” and “How to Sell Like a Startup.”
In the past, in order to hear about the business end of the college media scene, students would have had to attend a completely separate conference held in the spring and aimed largely at the ad sales teams of campus media.
This new development, while probably unremarkable to the streams of young editors and reporters coursing through the carpeted hallways of the Galt House Hotel convention center, was a subtle indication of the slow dissolution of the barrier between editorial and business in college media.
The change at the conference came about because of a joining forces last year of two of the main organizations that support college journalists: the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP), which is largely devoted to the editorial efforts of college media, and College Media Business and Advertising Managers (CMBAM), which does the same for the advertising sales crews.
Louisville was a trial balloon of sorts. In the Spring 2019 semester, the whole idea finds fuller expression when both of the organizations’ mid-winter conventions will merge with a joint convention in La Jolla, Calif.
Chris Richert, the president of CMBAM, says the main motivation for joining forces with ACP was financial. Membership of the group, which is run by volunteers, is down to about 80 colleges, from a peak of about 135 to 150, he said. The $185 annual membership was not covering the organization’s administrative costs. So, he said, it seemed expedient to hand over the back office duties of the organization to ACP, and move forward together.
He also noted that the diversifying nature of college media and their business models was also requiring more time of the CMBAM volunteers, including himself, as they try to cater to the changing needs of their members.
“Now a lot (of CMBAM’s members) are selling more than just newspapers,” he said. “We have magazines and film companies and event management companies, and the list goes on.
“We’re offering our clients a lot more than we used to when it comes to each of our organizations.”
Richert said bringing the two organizations together also reflected a realization at the leadership level that overlapping editorial and business is a necessary part of training young media professionals.
“I don’t expect the editorial students to sell any ads whatsoever but I expect them to understand how the ads get sold,” he said. “We can all be in different rooms but we’re all in the same house. We want those walls to be glass so you see exactly what each of the different groups are going through.”
Laura Widmer, the executive director of ACP and a well-known fixture at the annual conventions, says college media organizations are becoming “bare bones” operations and student budgets no longer allow for sending the ad sales team to one conference and the editors to another.
Some college papers, she said, used to have large business operations overseen by multiple staff advisers, but nowadays “you’re lucky if you have a separate advertising adviser in addition to the editorial.” Collaboration, she said, was the smart move for everyone.
She noted that ACP, which is a division of the National Scholastic Press Association, had already joined forces with another group, College Media Advisers (CMA), to host joint conventions, including the Louisville event.
The other main organization in the college media world, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) has a slightly different orientation, focusing less on student media and more on the work of faculty and their academic pursuits.
About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund of the Community Foundation of New Jersey and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.