Hilltop Won't Publish Print Edition for Rest of Semester PDF Print E-mail
By Shauntel Lowe - Black College Wire   

A Howard University policy board decided that the print edition of the student newspaper will not be published for the rest of the school year, but the paper will continue publishing online as the staff tries to dig itself out of a financial crisis.

"There's not enough money that would allow them to print a daily between now and the end of the year," University spokesperson Ron Harris told Black College Wire late Wednesday, March 26.

Drew Costley, Hilltop editor

The division of student affairs has agreed to pay for a special print graduation issue in May and will pay the salaries of the staff publishing online for the rest of the school year, Harris said.

Last week, the top editor of the Hilltop, Drew Costley, said the paper owed its printer, the Washington Times, $48,000 for past printing bills. At a March 6 meeting of the paper's policy board, the decision was made to stop printing for an unspecified amount of time.

Since news broke last week about the situation, more than $20,000 has been raised for the paper by various campus departments, faculty, staff and alumni, Harris said. But the board determined it was not enough.

Harris said the university is continuing to pay down the printing debt, and he did not know if the paper would be responsible for repaying the university.

In addition to the overdue printing bills, the Hilltop has had to deal with missing funds and unpaid advertising. In a March 21 interview, Costley said that the business office had not sent out invoices and tearsheets to advertisers for a month and a half during the fall, resulting in $40,000 to $45,000 in lost revenue.

Business manager speaks out

But on March 27, the Hilltop's business manager, Ashley Marshall, said the lost revenue, which was discussed at the latest policy board meeting, only amounted to about $10,000. Marshall, a junior majoring in legal communications, said a member of the business staff had been logging the invoices but did not physically mail them out to advertisers and was fired in part because of that.

When contacted for confirmation on exactly how much revenue was lost, university spokesperson Harris said he did not know because students handle it.

Marshall said the real issue is not the amount of lost revenue.

"We just didn't get enough revenue altogether," she said. According to Marshall, fall advertising revenue for the paper has been falling steadily since 2005, the first year the paper went daily. In fall 2005, over $149,000 worth of ads were sold. In fall, 2006 the amount was a little over $122,000. This past fall, only $86,000 worth of ads were sold, she said. These figures show a 42 percent drop in ad revenue in just two years.

Marshall attributes the drop to a nationwide struggle for print publications to secure advertising and inadequate training and time for her and her staff to do ad campaigns. She said she applied for the business manager position in spring 2007 but was not hired.

In mid-August, two weeks before the start of the school year, the business manager who had been hired quit, and Marshall stepped in as an interim business manager before officially being hired in September. She said she agreed to not be paid until she was officially hired.

"I was in the office every day." She said she even quit her job at the Gap in Georgetown so that she could spend more time in the Hilltop office, adding that she also took a pay cut at the beginning of the year so that her staff could be paid more.

The office was not ready for the start of the school year, she said, explaining that during the summer, the business manager is paid to stay and collect revenue from the previous school year and create ad campaigns for the upcoming year, but none of that got done for this year, she said.

"If I hadn't stepped up, who knows how worse the situation could have been," she said.

Marshall said she was never properly trained for the position and had to seek out advice from a past business manager.

Following the initial March 6 board decision to halt publication, Marshall sent out a letter on March 14 to advertisers notifying them the paper would not publish for the rest of the year. In a previous Black College Wire story, Costley said the letter should not have been sent and was done so without his authorization. But Marshall said at the March 6 meeting, board members insisted that a letter be sent out. She said it "wasn't necessary" for Costley to see the letter before she sent it.

Staff needs more training, support

"The real issue with the Hilltop is that there's not enough support for the financial matters of the Hilltop. When the Hilltop went daily, knowing that it was going to be a lot more fiscally strenuous on the paper, there should have been more advisers put on the board for financial purposes," Marshall said.

Harris said there are 17 members on the policy board, including students, faculty and staff, but he did not know exactly who the members are and could not provide contact information for the board.

Sources at the latest policy board meeting said those in attendance had been instructed not to speak with the media.

Last week, Costley said in January, $20,000 was missing from the paper's account and no one seemed to know where it had gone. On March 26, Harris said that as the result of an "accounting error," some money had been missing from the paper's account, but he did not know when or how much.

"Some money was inadvertently transferred to a different account and as soon as that mistake was discovered that money was transferred back," he said.

Marshall said the error related to the payroll system and they knew where the money was.

For now, Harris said the university has created a subcommittee within the policy board to determine what systemic issues contributed to the current financial crisis and how to avoid a similar situation in the future.

"The ideal solution is for the Hilltop to be printing daily as it was before," Harris said.

Marshall said, pending the policy board's permission, she would like to spend the rest of this year focusing on learning how to handle online advertising, training next year's staff and securing advertising for the graduation issue. She said currently the paper does not make any money from online advertising.

Marshall said she did her best and, like Costley, wanted to continue publishing.

"I did everything that I could do given the time that I had and what I had to work with to collect as much money as I could," she said.

Harris said the editor in chief was not at the latest policy board meeting, where the decision was made to publish online only through the end of the year. Costley did not return several phone calls and emails seeking comment for this article.

Shauntel Lowe is a recent graduate of UCLA and a regular contributor to Black College Wire.

Posted March 27, 2008

Posted Mar. 26, 2008
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