Published: March 10, 2014
A campus newspaper has existed at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs for nearly half a century - almost as long as the school has been open.
This week, students will decide whether the presses will stop running and the paper will be published online or if the student-run publication will keep producing weekly printed editions.
It's kind of a big deal, says Jesse Byrnes, editor-in-chief of The Scribe, which has been printed regularly since 1966.
"It's really important there's an outlet for students to have a voice on campus, that there's someone advocating for students about fees, university policies and holding those in power accountable," Byrnes said.
The student government association's spring election, which started Monday and continues through Friday, includes a question about whether students want to overturn a 2010 student vote to cease publication in August 2015 and go paperless.
Students in Carole Huber's geography class, which investigates ways of making the campus more sustainable, initiated the first ballot measure.
"A group of students felt the current generation is moving toward paperless news outlets, and having The Scribe move to a totally online format would be more environmentally friendly and save money," said Huber, a senior instructor in the geography and environmental studies department.
Held in a special election during finals week in 2010, the question drew less than 2 percent of the student body at that time to the polls, Byrnes said. And, he says, no one from The Scribe was included in the project.
The count: 176 students voted yes, to sunset the paper in 2015, 104 voted no and 10 abstained.
Unfair, Byrnes says, that such a small minority of students should determine the fate of the paper, which he says is currently having a banner year in terms of advertising sales and readership.
Hiring an experienced business manager last fall has resulted in $12,000 worth of advertising revenue this school year, Byrnes said. Advertisers are primarily from outside of the university system such as The Lodges, new off-campus housing, and nearby restaurants and retail shops. That income has been enough to not only print the newspaper but also pay off a $6,000 debt incurred two years ago and buy office supplies, he said.
The paper also is enjoying a surge in popularity, with 600 copies printed weekly and about 550 of those being picked up around campus, saidByrnes, a senior communications major who also has been an intern at The Gazette.
Huber's students had calculated that going paperless would save student government $6,634.50 a year - money which could be used to fund other types of student clubs and activities.
If The Scribe went paperless and was offered in an online-only format, Byrnes worries that there would not be enough advertising revenue to sustain the cost of a website or staff.
"Online advertising is less than 1 percent of print revenue," he said.
And financial and social sustainability of the paper also are important, Byrnes said, which is why The Scribe adopted an election campaign of the printed version being "a more sustainable Scribe."
To boost environmental sustainability, the staff switched to a local printer that uses soy-based ink and less water and energy in printing processes, he added.
The newspaper staff has been handing out flyers and encouraging students to vote.
The election, which includes candidates for student government and a proposed wellness fee, could generate more voters than the usual 9 to 10 percent of enrollment, which for the spring semester is 10,129 on-campus students. In the first hour a computer-based polling center on campus opened on Monday, 150 students had cast ballots.
"You've gotta support college newspapers," said student Alyssa Kane, who was urging her friends to vote "yes" on the Scribe issue. "It's a dying art, but I love the printed form of communication," she said.
Freshman Zachary Norton said he agrees.
"I'd like to see it continue as a hard copy because I personally like to read an actual paper in my hands," he said. "But I understand why some would like it to be on the Internet only because it's a lot easier and more environmentally friendly."
Senior Reggie Perdue, who's majoring in biology, said he favors getting rid of the paper.
"In this digital age, people go to the website on their phone, tablet or computer, more than the hard copy," he said. "It's the way to read it."
Byrnes said a recent student government poll of 100 students indicated that 65 percent want to keep the paper format.
Election results will be posted on campus and online at 6 p.m. Friday.