Southern Oregon University’s student newspaper, The Siskiyou, is on the chopping block for the second time in two years, despite its online readership being at an all-time high.
In 2014, the online-only newspaper’s funding was cut by the student fee committee when The Siskiyou failed to produce advertising revenue. But the newspaper was saved when the university made it a credited communication class.
On Wednesday, university officials notified communication instructor Julie Akins and Siskiyou staff that the class would be dropped after the term because of low enrollment. Only eight students are currently enrolled in the class, according to SOU spokesman Ryan Brown.
“The course has had habitually low enrollment, and the (communication) department made the decision that it will no longer offer the course (COMM 378) at this time,” Brown said.
“Faculty and staff in the department have recommended that the students writing for The Siskiyou consider transitioning it to a student club so that it is funded by student fees and not so dependent on enrollment and participation,” he said.
The Siskiyou, now in its 90th year, currently has its highest readership since it discontinued its print newspaper in January 2012, said Akins.
“In February 2011, we had 1,507 people read articles in the newspaper online,” she said. “In February 2016, we had 14,970. In 2011, our average views per day were 54. This year, it’s 515.”
As a class, students meet for four hours a week and are required to turn in one to two stories per week, Akins said.
“We try to cover everything, anything that we think will have impact or interest for our students,” she said. “We’ve been covering the progress in looking for a new president. We covered the entrenchment, capital improvement projects and the stabbing last week.”
The Siskiyou’s editor-in-chief, Eli Stillman, who will graduate in June with a bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in film, television and convergent media, said he’s had to recruit students to sign up for the class ever since he became editor at the beginning of 2015.
“It’s just a bummer with there being so many communication students, and this is a great opportunity to get your work published and something to put on your resume,” he said.
Stillman and Akins are exploring several options for the newspaper, including raising money for an endowment, administered by the SOU Foundation, or applying for club status with the university’s student fee committee.
Stillman launched a Go Fund Me account (www.gofundme.com/vcxzcz8k) this week and, as of Friday afternoon, had raised $256 of his $50,000 goal, the minimum amount required for an endowment.
Making the newspaper a student club would be the simplest option and make the most sense, Stillman said. But first he’ll have to gather signatures, find an adviser, prepare a budget and present it to the university’s student fee committee.
“The problem is you’re dealing with college students, who are carrying a full load, writing for the newspaper, and carrying other jobs to pay for school, and they only have until the end of spring term,” Akins said.
The university did away with its journalism emphasis in 2014 and has since introduced new communication concentrations: communication studies, digital cinema, and social media and public engagement. However, it still offers online, advance broadcast and sports journalism classes, as well as the newspaper, for those still interested in the profession.
In the long run, Stillman said he’d love to see The Siskiyou produce a bimonthly print edition, in addition to its online content. But first, he’s got just under eight weeks to figure out a way to make it sustainable.
“We want to keep it alive and keep it going,” he said. “This is my capstone. I’m not taking it for credit. I’m not getting paid for it. And I’m going to do everything to make sure it’s sustainable for another editor and anyone else who wants to read it or write for it.”
Akins said the newspaper provides an opportunity for students to learn about objectivity and participate in civil discourse.
“And for our general population, they can go online and see what’s happening in their community and their university, and they can choose to participate,” she said.
“It’s the last term as a class,” she added. “When spring term is over, unless we’re able to pull a rabbit out of our hat, The Siskiyou goes dark.”
Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.