The University Leader, the official student publication of Fort Hays State University, is no more. After 108 years of serving the campus, for better or worse, last week's issue was its last.
According to a press release from University Relations, the Leader fell "victim to a trend that has seen the failure of newspapers from coast to coast." FHSU President Edward H. Hammond was "not surprised" as he was kept abreast of the Leader's "ongoing difficulties."
As we examine the situation, however, we can't help but wonder whether the Leader had anything in common with the industry at large -- or if the campus paper fell victim to structural and institutional issues over which it had no control.
The official press release cites a number of papers that either have closed or eliminated their print version in recent years. All large metropolitan dailies, their demise was influenced by decreasing revenues, profits and print subscribers. More salient factors driving the decisions were parent companies needing to shed expenses because of debt-service problems, the continued disappearance of competitive markets, and frustration by stockholders and owners that newspapers no longer could deliver 30- and 40-percent margins.
It certainly is no secret the past 10 years have been rough on the industry. The rise of the Internet, subsidized with untold billions of taxpayer dollars, has disrupted many an industry -- leaving them to adapt and transform, or die. Newspapers are transforming. The bulk of credible content found online is created by media companies. Yet the bulk of online advertising dollars is in the hands of search engines, aggregators and social entertainment sites. For now. This disconnect will be remedied, through the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of content creators.
The Leader has not followed such a path. Its course is more akin to the Reveille, the FHSU yearbook, which was starved of resources before the final blow was delivered by the Student Government Association in 2003. No more funding.
That same year, the Leader was separated from the Communication Department. Paul Faber, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said at the time: "It is our intention to make the Leader an independent student forum."
Instead of faculty acting as the Leader adviser, outside individuals were hired by the Student Publications Board. Many a journalist filled the role, although none had senior management experience. Advertising advisers were attempted, then abandoned. It got to the point that this year's editor, an art major, was the individual attempting to train salespeople for the paper.
Last spring, the Student Government Association slashed its funding for the Leader.
And thus, Vol. 108 No. 16 on Jan. 31, 2013, the lead headline read: "Last available print issue."
The university desires a different solution moving forward. Faber has been appointed chairman of a task force to create some sort of a convergence model, and reintegrate it with curriculum. All of which could have been accomplished without killing the Leader.
University administrators appear optimistic about the future, which is good because that's all that remains.
Without the Reveille, there's no record of the past. Without the Leader, no accounting of the present. Even on-campus students must think they've been transferred to the Virtual College.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry
(Full disclosure: This newspaper has had contracts with the state of Kansas stretching back decades to print the Leader. The nominal profit earned annually doesn't even compare to the benefits obtained via hiring Leader staffers for full- and part-time positions as well as internships. The publisher also has been asked to participate in the task force to develop a new model.)