Ohio University student news organization The Post is at risk of losing its sole full-time employee who raises money for the publication, posing a potential existential threat to a 100-year-old legacy newspaper that’s historically served as a primary source of information in the area.
The publication’s business manager role, currently held by Andrea Lewis who oversees advertising sales as its exclusive source of revenue, has been on thin ice for nearly a decade with its oversight being shifted between administrative offices, culminating to this point where it will no longer exist in a year if the organization isn’t able to independently procure funding for her $45,000 salary.
Without somebody working in that role full-time, The Post’s editorial operations could be devastated, dampening news coverage of the university amid a period of significant upheaval and turmoil.
Prior to the recent rise of alternative on-campus publications, The Post historically operated as the main competitor of both professional local newspapers, The Athens News and The Athens Messenger, providing critical coverage of university and regional affairs.
“Independent student journalism is absolutely vital to the communities it serves. It has value to those who create it, and those who consume it,” The Post’s Editor-in-Chief Abby Miller said in a statement. “Without a business manager, we would no longer be 100% focused on our mission to be an independent voice for students on campus, and value would be lost.”
Should Lewis’ position be terminated, The Post would likely be unable to afford a print edition and upkeep of its website. The roughly 30 paid student journalists and editors would no longer receive salaries, and it would likely forgo its premium Baker Center newsroom, Hans Meyer, an E.W. Scripps School of Journalism associate professor and a leader of The Post Publishing Board, said.
Lewis’ salary was paid through a three-year grant from an administrative office, Experiential Learning, and the funding for her job will sunset this year.
Meyer and Lewis, in an effort to renew the grant, were tasked with justifying the existence of her role by creating a proposal that demonstrates how the job facilitates opportunities for students. In the end, their request was rejected.
On-campus journalism published by students looking to break into the highly competitive news industry provides them with essential experience that’s practically required to land internships, and ultimately, jobs.
Many of The Post’s alumni have gone on to secure employment at major national news organizations, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg, among many others.
After the duo's proposal was denied by the administration, others in Scripps College of Communication leadership became involved, including Dean Scott Titsworth, Meyer said. The leaders were able to broker a deal with the administration, garnering one year’s worth of stop-gap funding for Lewis’ salary. But after that, the organization will be left to its own devices to come up with the money.
“The Post is something that we as a journalism school hold up to students and say ‘this is a 100-year-old student newspaper’ … It would be harder for us to hold this up as an example if we didn’t support it,” Meyer said.
In a statement, the university argued that in stripping resources from The Post, it’s working to be more equitable to the other student-run media outlets that have come to prominence in recent years and are afforded far fewer resources, including political news publication The New Political and culture magazine Backdrop. The New Political has in the past actively rejected university funding as part of an editorial decision, and has relied on advertisements sold by students to local organizations.
“The University greatly values the Post and its history, and we have been working closely with Andrea and the Post for several years now to develop a sustainable funding plan to meet their unique needs … Additionally, there are resources available through the Campus Involvement Center to assist student organizations with operational funding, for which the Post may apply,” university spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said in a statement.
The Post Alumni Society, the organization’s networking and fundraising arm that includes more than 400 members, is also frustrated by the university’s yearslong efforts to downsize the publication — especially after the group raised nearly $10,000 in alumni donations this past "Giving Day", Alumni Society President and Washington Business Journal Reporter Tristan Navera said in an interview.
Navera said the society has been working with The Post’s wide alumni network in an effort to obtain grant funding for Lewis’ salary.
“It’s disheartening to feel like the paper has sort of been under threat for at least the past 10 years,” he said.
While Meyer and others at the university are also trying to work with private organizations and other potential donors to provide the funding, he’s become increasingly pessimistic of their ability to carry the financial burden.
“For the size of the university that we are, the commitment to student affairs is minimal,” Meyer said, noting that OU’s rival institutions, including Miami University and Bowling Green State University, have more than one full-time staffer on payroll at their student publications.
Meyer said that people he’s met with at college media conferences were “astounded” to learn that The Post, given its nationwide reputation, only had a single full-time employee.
Lewis, in a statement, was optimistic about the future of her role.
“There is a sustainable path, that includes this support, and I have been working with individuals in several different offices on campus on a plan that make sense, and am hopeful that within this (fiscal year), there will be a solidified plan to maintain this funding,” she said without providing specifics.
Disclosures: Lewis previously worked for Adams Publishing Group (APG) Media of Ohio, The Athens NEWS’ parent company. APG has a contract with the university to print The Post’s weekly edition at The Athens Messenger building during the academic year, and The Post no longer producing a print product would have some financial implications for the company. The author of this report, Ben Peters, served as managing editor of The New Political as a student.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the funding situation of Lewis' role.