Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, February 18, 2019

Op/Ed: AU should support its student newspaper

Reaching out to students: Do we want AU to be the first Washington-area university to eliminate its student newspaper?

Word is spreading that big changes are coming to The Eagle, AU’s oldest publication. Since 1925, it has served and informed the AU community. But financial pressures may force The Eagle to stop publishing a print edition in 2013. While current staffers aim to build a stronger presence online, they -- and we -- believe publishing in print is important as the paper transitions to a digital future. The newspaper is read by thousands every week, and its physical presence helps drive readers online.

AU would be a less complete institution without this paper. Over the past nine decades, it’s been AU’s historical record, covering the university’s development and representing student viewpoints. Some say The Eagle doesn’t make people comfortable with how they’re represented. Well, journalism isn’t supposed to make people comfortable all the time. As former editors-in-chief, we’re proud of The Eagle’s long tradition of highlighting good works around campus while also holding those in power accountable.

It’s time for our community to step up and support The Eagle. Do we want AU to be the first Washington-area university to eliminate its student newspaper?

Make no mistake: The Eagle is adapting to digital reading habits. By publishing breaking news digitally first, The Eagle has built one of the largest online and social media audiences of any AU group. Yet The Eagle needs to reach digital advertisers and new revenue sources. Abruptly ending the print edition and removing it from campus would directly affect ad revenues, as print advertising is more robust than online advertising. The Eagle needs that revenue as it transitions its business to the web. Other universities recognize this: While the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily and the University of Oregon’s Daily Emerald cut back on printing, as The Eagle has, they have not eliminated print entirely as they invest in new innovations.

The Eagle’s alumni believe in its mission. We’ve committed to buying ads this semester to help The Eagle continue publishing because it’s a vital institution. We’re also working to build an endowment of at least $50,000 to finance future innovations. While we’re a quarter of the way there, we need your help to reach our goal.

Donations are one way to help; advertising support is another, either in print or online. In the age of social media, administrators say AU offices are less interested in buying print ads. But this hasn’t stopped AU from spending thousands of dollars on “WONK” ads in The Washington Post and online to reach a broad audience. Meanwhile, The Eagle has faced the abrupt loss of long-established ad revenue from campus institutions, such as the Student Government, which had purchased up to $20,000 in ads annually. That loss severely affected The Eagle’s bottom line. National advertising still generates revenue, though not enough to keep The Eagle out of debt.

Even while The Eagle has faced financial challenges, it has won numerous awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and last year was a finalist for the coveted Pacemaker Award from the Associated Collegiate Press.

One option for The Eagle moving forward is joining the Student Media Board to seek student activity fee funding. Such funds support 53 percent of U.S. collegiate newspapers, one survey found. Other media groups the board funds will understandably worry about the impact on their own budgets, though. If this option becomes a reality, AU needs to increase the funding formula for student media to help The Eagle survive. This should be an easy decision. The Eagle has the largest audience yet would seek a smaller subsidy to keep printing than ATV, WVAU and others receive.

The Eagle has a bright future, if given the time to transition to a new model. Alumni stand ready to help. Now The Eagle needs your support, too. If you want to sustain student journalism, buy an ad, make a donation, or voice your support for The Eagle on Twitter and Facebook.

Brett Zongker Eagle Editor-in-Chief, 2002-2003 SOC 2003

Anne Godlasky Eagle Editor-in-Chief, 2004-2005 SOC 2005

Chris Kain Eagle Editor-in-Chief, 1990-1991 CAS/SPA, 1991

David Aldridge Eagle Editor-in-Chief, 1985-1986 CAS 1987

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