By David Schick
Unless drastic action is taken soon, this could be one of the very last issues the Collegian ever prints.
I’m not trying to sound like Chicken Little here, I’m just trying to face facts. GPC’s student paper is on a path to utter annihilation unless something is done fast.
The Collegian’s print operations are solely supported by its advertising revenue, which comes mostly from the four-year colleges. Due to apparent neglect from the new adviser and the administration, the newspaper is going to run out of funds.
Loss of the adviser
Ever since the budget shortfall, the Collegian has been fighting for its survival. The biggest blow came when 282 employees, including Collegian Adviser David Simpson, were laid off.
Simpson, a non-faculty adviser, provided us with an amazing opportunity to learn what it’s like working in a real-life newsroom environment. He brought 30 years of journalism experience with him, which made his role that much more essential (I would even go as far as to say “mission critical” to GPC’s journalism program).
On the day of the lay offs, I immediately sent an email to Rob Watts, GPC’s interim president. I wrote, “Losing Simpson could very well be the death of the Collegian.”
It’s important to note some back history here.
When Simpson was originally hired, his salary was paid for out the Student Activity Fee budget. And that made sense because the Collegian is a “student activity.”
Due to an old scuffle between the Collegian staff and the Student Government Association, which happened years ago, Simpson’s salary was moved to Dr. Vincent June’s budget after the SGA voted to give Simpson a one cent salary.
I noted these objections to Watts. Simpson’s salary was being paid out of the wrong budget (which most likely led to his removal). Watts responded by saying the he was told that Simpson was “appropriately budgeted.”
If that’s the case, then why was the Student Activity Fee budget reallocated (without any student involvement) to include a miraculous $9,000 stipend for a Collegian adviser?
On July 16, I met with Deborah Homer, dean of student services, and Vincent June, vice president for student affairs, to discuss my concerns about the Collegian’s future. In the meeting, I advocated for Simpson’s return.
“Can we bring David back with the adviser stipend?” I asked June.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” said June.
Several days later, when I checked on the progress of Simpson’s re-hire, Dean Homer told me that June had directed her to focus on finding a faculty member instead, contrary to what he told me.
I’m convinced that Dr. June was telling me what I wanted to hear, just to keep me quiet until I graduated.
On a side note, Simpson would turn a profit with the Collegian’s advertisement sales to the tune of $10,000 per semester. Basically, when you calculate paying him the $1,000 per month stipend, he could pay for his own salary and net us a profit of $11,000 per school year.
The “faculty” appointment
On Aug. 24, a week after classes started, I had the first meeting with our newly appointed adviser, Cynthia Stevens, and Dean Homer.
Despite the several requests I made over the summer to be involved, I was offered no say or input on choosing the adviser (and maybe a student shouldn’t be involved with the hiring of their adviser, but it’s obvious that if the administration had listened to me the Collegian wouldn’t be in the predicament it’s in now).
At the first meeting, I passionately stressed the importance of the Collegian’s advertising sales as the top priority. I cited the fact that the Collegian’s ad sales solely supported and sustained its printing costs.
I was told that this was to be the primary role of the adviser. Dean Homer told me that Stevens was brought in to perform these duties because she had a background in advertising.
I later discovered that there was nothing about selling advertisements in the job description for the new adviser, which was created by Dean Homer.
Stevens has no background in journalism, so it makes me wonder why she was brought in as the adviser at all. After several weekly meetings of reiterating the importance of Stevens’ role to obtain advertisements, Stevens had not contributed any ad sales or any significant amount of time to the Collegian.
Most of the Collegian’s staff didn’t even know who she was five weeks into the semester.
At our weekly meeting of Sept. 21, Stevens asked me what I expected of her and how I saw her role. I explained that because she was receiving a $1,000 per month from our budget that she should bring money into the paper. Stevens said she “didn’t see it like that.”
Unsatisfied with the Collegian’s direction, I once again spoke to June in his office about Simpson’s willingness to come back for the $9,000 stipend in the SAF budget to accomplish the essential duties to stabilize Collegian’s future. June alluded to the possibility of bringing Simpson back “part-time” with “state money.”
On Oct. 5, Stevens, Dean Homer and I met yet again. “I’m not selling ads,” said Stevens at the start of the meeting.
Stevens also provided me with a “job description” for the Collegian adviser. Nowhere in the job description did it mention anything about selling ads.
However, I would like to note that the general description of the adviser position, which includes “responsible for the production, publication and distribution of the Georgia Perimeter College student newspaper in both advisory and administrative roles,” is also not being filled.
Stevens defined the adviser selling advertisements as “being absurd.”
When I explained that if the adviser didn’t sell ads, the paper would die, Stevens responded, “If it dies, it’s because the students permit it.”
After a heated discussion, there was still no resolution.
On Oct. 10, I spoke with June again about the Collegian’s situation. The conclusion was (more) waiting until the end of November for Stevens to come up with a plan for students to sell advertisements, to which I agreed.
Well, it’s way past the end of November and the adviser still doesn’t have a definite plan for students to carry on the advertising sales of the Collegian.
Hmmm… Didn’t GPC have a budget director, a Vice President, and a Chief Business Officer for Fiscal Affairs that also didn’t do their jobs?
The boiling point
On Oct. 17, the entire staff met with Dean Homer and Stevens in a roundtable discussion about the future of the Collegian.
In that meeting, when I asked her why she never sold ads she responded, “Because you made me mad.” Stevens also made reference that she wasn’t confident selling ads because of our sub par content.
The former adviser had this to say:
In my opinion, this exposes GPC to significant legal liability. The adviser, an agent of the college, is stating that she will not seek critical revenue because she objects to the content. I think the case law is clear that “poor quality” cannot be used as a reason to punish a paper. The college’s support for the paper may not be contingent on the content, period.
Of course, the advisor’s statement, if I understand it accurately, is preposterous. Collegian advertising comes from four-year colleges and, to much lesser degree, from national agencies. I spent three years building that business, and not once did any advertiser comment on grammar or content.
Additionally, this paper was a national Pacemaker finalist a year ago. It has dominated the state contest the last two years, and I expect that to continue this year. This paper’s website was widely praised by FACULTY this summer for investigative coverage.
My coup de grâce
My faith in the Editor in Chief aside, there is only so much burden that a student can (or should) take on with that position. This past semester I acted as the EIC, the adviser, and even as a part-time ad director. It was absolutely ludicrous.
Since I ensured that we printed each of the fall semester’s issues at a profit, we still have a significant amount of revenue to carry us through the spring if someone actually collects on the several thousand dollars that we’re owed. That being said, without an adequate adviser the Collegian will surely crumble.
Although I never got it in writing, June assured us that regardless of advertisement revenue, he will “find money” to make sure the paper continues to print this semester.
I want to note that the reason I wrote this is because the public has a right to know what is going on with their local news media. My goal here is not to demonize anyone mentioned in this editorial. I simply want the voice of the Collegian to be heard.
We met, we compromised, we afforded every opportunity for the administration to make this situation right. They haven’t.
If you’re trying to collect a “no show” title, the Collegian adviser is not it. If you’re retiring, don’t be so sure that the “new guy” will care as much as you do. If you’re telling people only what they want to hear and making excuses for not adhering to your word later, it’s called “lying.”
I may have graduated, but I still care deeply about the place where I forged the beginnings of my career in journalism. I want you all to know that the Collegian staff has more than adequate resources to continue fighting the good fight.
Do right by them, and they’ll do right by you.