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Campus paper’s future in jeopardy

– IPFW’s student newspaper, The Communicator, could cease to exist or publish less frequently without additional financial support, its publisher says.

The publication, which has won national awards, started a letter-writing campaign to secure grants and donations from alumni, organizations and local businesses, Publisher Matt McClure said.

It needs about $20,000 to finish out the year, but McClure hopes to adopt a new operating model so The Communicator can continue to operate in the long term.

The Communicator functions as a nonprofit with an operating partnership with IPFW Student Government Association. The agreement provides a yearly allocation of money from student fees while maintaining the publication’s independence from the university.

Beyond that funding, the publication relies on advertising revenue to pay employees, rent and other expenses. But it has seen a dip in ad revenue since the recession, and last year the Student Government Association cut funding to the publication to fund other programs, McClure said.

The university is also facing budget problems, with a deficit of at least $4.2 million. That figure could rise as high as $9 million depending on enrollment and state funding, which will be determined after the General Assembly passes a two-year budget. IPFW officials have said a significant part of the shortfall is caused by declining enrollment.

The newspaper’s budget crisis comes just two weeks before the launch of a new online initiative, which McClure said would be yet another tool for student training and professional development but wouldn’t bring in enough extra revenue to support the publication.

“To keep going, we’ll need support directly from the university,” McClure said.

McClure is hoping a commitment for the additional funding comes before the end of the month. But with IPFW dealing with its own deficit, additional money from the university is up in the air. Attempts to reach administrative officials Wednesday night were unsuccessful.

The publication’s board of directors – which includes students, faculty and professionals – has offered different proposals to move forward. One is to shut down in March. Another is to go from publishing print and online editions weekly to publishing them monthly for the rest of the year.

McClure hopes the final decision includes a two-year transition plan that changes the operating agreement for The Communicator to ensure it can continue.

“Our organization is very strong, it’s just that the operating arrangement needs to be renegotiated,” McClure said.

McClure tried to make changes to that agreement about two years ago, but talks about changes were stalled, then halted, during the transition from one chancellor to another, he said. Then-chancellor Mike Wartell was forced to retire under Purdue University’s mandatory retirement age of 65. Vicky Carwein became chancellor in September.

Since the letter-writing campaign started, the publication has seen an outpouring of support from alumni, academic departments and state press associations, McClure said.

Kristan Mensch has been involved with the publication for three years and is currently editor-in-chief. She said she has put in as many as 50 hours a week in the newsroom but wouldn’t trade her experience.

“The Communicator is an incredibly important resource for students,” she said. “It provides a unified voice for the campus while also serving as a learning lab for those associated with it.”

McClure said the university hasn’t shown any malice, and he hopes it values the work of The Communicator enough to keep it going.

“If the university chooses to value free speech and media education; … I see there’s immense potential to keep going. But if it’s not something the administration values as a service, as a tool, then we are expendable.”

sarah.janssen@jg.net

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