Fighting for Funding

The Torch budget is under scrutiny

by Published: Nov 28, 2012

You can find it in the news­pa­per racks in the IRC and on the tables at Cranker’s. It keeps you up-to-date on cam­pus events, gives you the inside scoop on Bulldog ath­let­ics and sparks con­ver­sa­tion on a vari­ety of con­tro­ver­sial topics.

It’s your cam­pus stu­dent news­pa­per, The Torch, and it’s in finan­cial trouble.

For many stu­dents, The Torch is as much a part of Ferris as Brutus the Bulldog and Wing Nite at Westview. However, decreas­ing adver­tis­ing rev­enue com­bined with a new focus on the inde­pen­dent stu­dent newspaper’s bud­get has resulted in a murky future.

The Torch has gen­er­ated adver­tis­ing rev­enue as high as $97,000 in 2007-08, but that dipped with the national reces­sion each of the last four years to a low of $56,000 last year. The College of Arts & Sciences tra­di­tion­ally pays the oper­at­ing costs not cov­ered by rev­enues to the tune of $30,000 to $45,000 dur­ing that same time period, but the recent bud­get scrutiny has cast a shadow of uncer­tainty on The Torch’s future.

In September, the Torch was chal­lenged to ana­lyze its busi­ness plan and cur­rent oper­a­tions as well as prove its value to the uni­ver­sity after receiv­ing the strong mes­sage that it will not be funded at the same level as recent years.

The paper has been funded through the College of Arts & Sciences’ $21 mil­lion bud­get. It is the largest col­lege at the uni­ver­sity, with a total $192 mil­lion budget.

College of Arts & Sciences’ fund­ing has cov­ered the award-winning newspaper’s oper­at­ing deficit each year with lit­tle ques­tion. It was a con­vo­luted sys­tem of finan­cial sup­port that has been called a “bail out,” among other things, han­dled at the end of each aca­d­e­mic year.

For more than a decade, The Torch staff has pro­duced a print and online news­pa­per on a frac­tion of the bud­get when com­pared to many other sim­i­lar stu­dent news­pa­pers around the coun­try. In recent years, The Torch has been rec­og­nized at its high­est level in decades through awards.

Dave Clark, Editor-in-Chief of the local news­pa­per The Pioneer, val­ues the role The Torch plays in the rela­tion­ship between Ferris and the Big Rapids community.

“Without The Torch, com­mu­nity engage­ment would be harmed,” he said. “People wouldn’t know what’s going on at Ferris. No one would be at Entertainment Unlimited events, and speak­ers would be pre­sent­ing to empty seats.”

A grad­u­ate of Central Michigan University with a degree in jour­nal­ism, Clark moved to Big Rapids seven years ago. One of the first things he did was pick up The Torch.

He was curi­ous about the stu­dent news­pa­per and was “pleas­antly sur­prised” by what he read. In the years since he picked up his first copy, Clark has seen The Torch “get bet­ter and bet­ter every year.”

“The Torch is now attract­ing a higher cal­iber of stu­dent jour­nal­ists,” he said. “Based on the awards the news­pa­per has won, other peo­ple agree.”

For its efforts dur­ing the 2011-12 aca­d­e­mic year, The Torch earned 14 awards from the Michigan Collegiate Press Association. The awards ranged from hon­or­able men­tion for an inves­tiga­tive story to first place for an orig­i­nal car­toon. The Torch received third place for “General Excellence,” mark­ing the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year to be hon­ored in the top three in that cat­e­gory as being among the state’s best over­all newspapers.

In addi­tion, the Torch received national recog­ni­tion from the Associated Collegiate Press when a writer received hon­or­able men­tion for Story of the Year in the Editorial/Opinion category.

Despite improve­ment and recog­ni­tion, loss of fund­ing still looms.

“I’m a fan of The Torch,” Clark said. “To extin­guish that voice would be a crime. There’s no bet­ter out­let for stu­dent voices than a stu­dent newspaper.”

Clark wants to know what will replace The Torch as a plat­form for stu­dent voices and believes the admin­is­tra­tion is respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing an alternative.

“Whatever the admin­is­tra­tion pro­vides will not be as effec­tive as what The Torch has been doing for nearly 100 years,” he said.

Since 1931, The Torch has been Ferris State University’s pri­mary source for cam­pus news. The reg­is­tered stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion pub­lishes a weekly 16-page news­pa­per dur­ing the aca­d­e­mic year and has a cir­cu­la­tion of approx­i­mately 4,300 free copies.

The Torch keeps stu­dents informed about and con­nected to cam­pus events and com­mu­nity activ­i­ties includ­ing enter­tain­ment, ath­let­ics, arts, enrich­ment and academics.

Dr. Katherine Harris, interim depart­ment head for the Languages and Literature Department, believes “The Torch is the per­fect exam­ple of what is great about Ferris State University.”

“Torch staff mem­bers come from all majors to pro­vide a diver­sity of opin­ions as well as excite cam­pus con­ver­sa­tion,” Harris said. “This makes for a more dynamic and mean­ing­ful uni­ver­sity experience.”

Harris is among those advo­cat­ing for more sta­ble Torch fund­ing. More than just a spe­cial edu­ca­tional oppor­tu­nity, Harris rec­og­nizes how The Torch influ­ences not only staff lives but the cam­pus com­mu­nity and the greater com­mu­nity as well.

“We need to work together as a uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity to main­tain com­mit­ment to the news­pa­per and be respon­si­ble for the way we fund and sup­port it,” she said.

Currently, The Torch employs 33 stu­dents rang­ing from edi­tors and writ­ers to page design­ers, adver­tis­ing sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives and dis­tri­b­u­tion staff. The paper prides itself on being student-led and student-run. Essentially, the inde­pen­dent stu­dent news­pa­per is a lab in which staff mem­bers are engaged in a con­stant learn­ing experience.

Ferris alum­nus and for­mer Editor-in-Chief of The Torch Kelsey Schnell said his expe­ri­ence at the stu­dent news­pa­per gave him an edge over other appli­cants when he entered the work force after grad­u­a­tion. Schnell grad­u­ated in 2010 with a busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion degree and now works as the pub­lic rela­tions and mar­ket­ing offi­cer for the Mackinac State Historic Parks.

“It allowed me a real-life work­ing envi­ron­ment that far exceeded that of com­puter sim­u­la­tions, man­age­ment mod­els and group-work assign­ments,” Schnell said. “It pro­vided an envi­ron­ment for the actual appli­ca­tion of the­ory as taught in the classroom.”

According to Schnell, his Torch expe­ri­ence reflected uni­ver­sity founder Woodbridge Ferris’ mantra of “Industry and Opportunity.” Schnell can think of few places which so fully real­ize the university’s pur­pose “to cre­ate, sup­port and enhance the learner-centered envi­ron­ment that is cen­tral to the uni­ver­sity mis­sion of prepar­ing stu­dents for suc­cess­ful careers, respon­si­ble cit­i­zen­ship, and life­long learn­ing in a rapidly chang­ing global econ­omy and society.”

Torch staff mem­bers work together to pro­vide a pub­lic forum where stu­dent voices can be heard. Adhering to the jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards of fair­ness and accu­racy, The Torch pro­vides a plat­form for stu­dents to talk and share ideas.

“[The Torch pro­vided] a real-life work and edu­ca­tion envi­ron­ment that pre­pared me for my career in count­less ways. It is a mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion deliv­ery sys­tem that pro­motes vary­ing ideas on any num­ber of sub­jects and inspires con­ver­sa­tion among its read­ers,” Schnell said. “What bet­ter exam­ple than a news­pa­per for the rapid change and yet fun­da­men­tal impor­tance life­long learn­ing plays in a ‘chang­ing global econ­omy and society?’”

  • Melanie FSU88

    I attended FSU for two years as a jour­nal­ism major before I trans­ferred, and work­ing at the Torch gave me the tools nec­es­sary to write for any class or pur­pose needed. Many years after I left FSU, I taught English classes at pri­vate col­lege, and you can bet I taught my stu­dents about find­ing cred­i­ble sources, doing research, and cre­at­ing a com­pelling sto­ry­line. All this I learned at the Torch.

  • Brie Sorensen

    I worked at the Torch for a semes­ter as a deliv­ery girl and the year after that I vis­ited the office often, hav­ing made many friends and enjoy­ing hear­ing about the “goings on” around cam­pus. Shame on FSU for think­ing of cut­ting the Torch. It is a valu­able resource for Ferris and even Big Rapids. Nothing I like more than to sit down after a long day and read the newspaper.

  • Brie Sorensen

    I worked at the Torch for a semes­ter as a deliv­ery girl and the year after that I vis­ited the office often, hav­ing made many friends and enjoy­ing hear­ing about the “goings on” around cam­pus. Shame on FSU for think­ing of cut­ting the Torch. It is a valu­able resource for Ferris and even Big Rapids. Nothing I like more than to sit down after a long day and read the newspaper.

  • Stephanie Guelette

    I worked at the torch for 4 years while at Ferris. While I was there, I met many peo­ple I still call friends and actu­ally learned how the real world worked. If a mis­take was made, there were con­se­quences. If some­thing went well, there were rewards.

    Our super­vi­sor always encour­aged us to be pro­fes­sional, but to be our­selves at the same time. Most of the skills that actu­ally got me noticed in job inter­views came from there. I learned nego­ti­a­tion, train­ing skills, inter­view­ing skills, man­age­ment, and was still able to find ways to use my degree.

    I’m out in the new world doing well at this point. I have the Torch and Laura Anger to thank for that.

  • Tirzah Price

    Out of curios­ity, are most stu­dent news­pa­pers funded by col­leges in a uni­ver­sity, or by the uni­ver­sity itself?

    • Jessica Smith

      It’s hard to say if “most” col­lege news­pa­pers are, but the ones that are well funded and han­dled appro­pri­ately are funded by stu­dent fees or funded based on the num­ber of stu­dents — the stu­dents “sub­scribe” to the newspaper.

  • Greg Buckner

    As some­one who worked at The Torch for two years dur­ing my col­lege career, I can­not put into words the amount of expe­ri­ence I gained work­ing there. I don’t believe there is another on-campus job that gives you the amount of hands-on expe­ri­ence that actu­ally trans­lates to the real world, even out­side of journalism.

    I wouldn’t have met half of the peo­ple I knew in col­lege out­side of my reg­u­lar group of friends if not for The Torch, and would not have been able to tell many of the sto­ries of the great things peo­ple are doing on campus.

    I think it would be a grave mis­take to let The Torch slip away. For a school that is grow­ing each year and has no prob­lem putting HDTVs and the such in build­ing lob­bies, I think a solu­tion can be found.

  • Airia Anton

    The removal of the Torch would be an infringe­ment upon Ferris Student’s free­dom of speech. The Torch not
    only noti­fies stu­dents of upcom­ing events, but it cov­ers con­tro­ver­sial top­ics from dif­fer­ent parts of the globe. Big Rapids is not the most “cul­tur­ally enriched” city out there, if you know what I mean, and the removal of the Torch would only fur­ther add to the community’s ignorance.

    I par­tic­i­pate in the­ater at FSU and with­out the Torch many stu­dents would have no idea that there was a play or musi­cal going on, regard­less of posters, as most peo­ple don’t take the time to look at a wall, but they will look at a newspaper.

    If there’s a report of where my tuition money is going, I want to know. Or if a class I want to take looks like it won’t go through with­out more stu­dents then I want that infor­ma­tion so I can do some­thing about it. I know that I hardly pay atten­tion to the e-mails I get from Ferris and I’m sure many oth­ers do too, but the Torch catches my eye.

    o you see the Torch is ben­e­fi­cial for the knowl­edge of all the stu­dents on cam­pus. It’s our right to know, and you will not take our right away.

  • Sarah Lundgren

    As a for­mer Editor-in-Chief of the Ferris State Torch, I can tell you that this paper has a pro­found impact on the stu­dent body. It ignites con­tro­versy, dis­cus­sion and enthu­si­asm. Taking away such a vital con­tri­bu­tion to the stu­dent and gen­eral pop­u­la­tion would be a shame. The fund­ing that this pro­gram requires each year is min­i­mal. And every penny is worth it.

    Don’t make a mis­take you’ll regret, Ferris.

  • Jeff H

    I attended Ferris for 5 years. In that time I reg­u­larly picked up the torch to find out about the events and news going on on cam­pus. Without it I would have never known about even half of the events. I feel that it would be easy to find money within the bud­get, don’t buy new chairs this semes­ter for a class­room, use the ones that are per­fectly fine and just are old and dont look as snazzy.

  • SB

    I think we should keep the Torch, but it is hon­estly a ter­ri­bly writ­ten news­pa­per in my book. The writ­ing is sloppy, along with the lay­out, arti­cles are full of errors, mis­quoted peo­ple, and over­all dumb fea­tures. The “Overheard at Ferris” sec­tion has the dumb­est quotes. The adviser or edi­tor must seri­ously not do a whole lot of proof read­ing or double-checking. A lot of the “arti­cles” are just the writer rant­ing about their views… It’s a great thing to have but it needs to be dras­ti­cally improved.

    • http://twitter.com/jackieangrrr Jax Anger

      You should apply for a job at The Torch, we’re los­ing a lot of our staff because they’re grad­u­at­ing this May. We also like see­ing let­ters to the edi­tor, and responses to arti­cles. While I don’t agree with your state­ments, I will always agree that there is room for improve­ment. If you want to make some­thing bet­ter, you’ve got to have the ini­tia­tive to do it!

  • Bulldawgjeff85

    Why is the Torch oper­at­ing bud­get under Arts & Science and not the school of busi­ness? What am I miss­ing here? That’s your first problem…here’s a novel con­cept, start oper­at­ing like a busi­ness and stop the happy BS of asso­ci­at­ing with ace­demics. You’re pro­duc­ing a prod­uct to attract read­ers, that includes the edi­to­r­ial and the adver­tis­ing. The “if you build it, they will come phi­los­o­phy” approach doesn’t work any­more. Get out and hit the streets and get busi­ness, EVERYONE on staff, includ­ing edi­tors and writers…you’re the prod­uct, so go sell your­self. That’s if you really care about the sur­vival of the Torch and that’s how the real world of pub­lish­ing works. You just got a free les­son from a for­mer Bulldog…

    • http://twitter.com/jackieangrrr Jax Anger

      Dear Jeff, I assume your name is Jeff, I also assume that you grad­u­ated or were a par­tic­i­pate of The Torch read­er­ship in 85. If you are an expec­tant grad­u­ate of 2085, con­grats on your longevity!
      I am the Opinions Section Editor, so the Opinions expressed in this com­ment are my own and have noth­ing to do with The Torch, its spon­sors or any of its subsidiaries .

      I have a novel con­cept for you: Paying atten­tion to the Ferris Budget at large. You would under­stand that for the past sev­eral years the Ferris State Torch has been under ASC scrutiny through no fault of its own and has always been told “Okay, so here’s the extra, nice job, ect.”

      Is that right? No, Did it hap­pen? Yes. That multiple-year indis­cre­tion has been solved for this year and the next. Read the next Torch issue to see the let­ter from The Dean of Arts and Sciences.

      What you are miss­ing is the fact that think­ing as a strictly a busi­ness major will get you strictly busi­ness propo­si­tions– those do not work in the world of pub­li­ca­tion. I get it, I’m in the Business Administration path myself. We see num­bers, not peo­ple, not prospects, and that’s the prob­lem. When we start to see peo­ple we human­ize the sub­ject and our judge­ment gets clouded.

      The prob­lem with this is that we’re also not con­sid­er­ing that those “humans” also have bright ideas and come from dif­fer­ent, if not the same back­grounds that we do. The Torch oper­ates on such a stream-lined bud­get that even min­i­mal things such as Kleenex and paper towel come out of per­sonal expenses. It is quite obvi­ous that you have no ini­tial idea of our busi­ness model or of the area we cover. I won’t knock you down for that, only ask that you actu­ally research facts before you depend on assump­tions. When you assume, it only makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” keep that in mind when your supe­rior or other Alumni see this com­ment– it’s not anony­mous despite what the ‘Discuss’ server will tell you.

      If you really, truly give a damn about The Torch or what hap­pens to it, apply to Ferris or write to the President of Ferris o our Dean. If you have half of the ini­tia­tive it takes to write a com­ment on this arti­cle you may be able to come up with some­thing half-decent to present to a bud­get com­mit­tee to keep The Torch around for years to come. Thank you for your insight, and thank you for your candor,