A coalition of newspapers is distributing free papers to residence halls in hopes of selling the University a campus-wide subscription plan.
Starting last week, students in residence halls can pick up free copies of USA Today, the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune as part of a four-week trial run of the Collegiate Readership Program.
USA Today Education Division director Diane Barrett said the trial run gives schools an opportunity to see if students are interested in the newspapers.
“It’s a taste test,” Barrett said.
The program will not be free forever; a permanent program would be financed by fees tacked on to residence hall bills.
Liz Moscatelli, general manager for USA Today-Minneapolis/St. Paul, said a $5 to $8 charge per semester for students living in residence halls would pay for the program.
“It’s about the cost of a pizza for an entire semester of newspapers,” she said.
Moscatelli said she was optimistic the program would continue.
“Pickup at the distribution sites has been very good,” she said. “Students in Minnesota are very well read.”
Michael Houston, a marketing and logistics professor at the Carlson School of Management, said the newspapers will likely benefit from the program.
“This is a way to hook readers because they’re buying a product at a low cost so when they move out of the dorms they will continue reading it and paying for it,” Houston said.
A similar program in place at the Carlson School, paid for by student fees, provides copies of The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune.
While Houston said the program would initially cost the newspapers money, they would likely end up with higher readership.
Susan Stubblefield, assistant director of Housing and Residential Life, said a survey at the end of the pilot program will determine whether the University continues the program next year.
She said the department has been looking into the program for several years.
“We’ve had a number of conversations with representatives from all three newspapers,” Stubblefield said. “They offered us this pilot program so students could see what this is all about before we make a decision for next year.”
Moscatelli said because most Big Ten schools already have the program, Minnesota was a logical test site.
“The (University) is one of the largest schools in the country,” she said. “It makes sense to have this program on campus.”
Stubblefield said the University is also looking at a campus-wide program that would distribute papers to buildings on campus.
Student reaction positive
Students in the residence halls said they like the free newspapers.
“I love it because it saves me money and it’s convenient,” first-year student and Centennial Hall resident Mike Joyce said. “I hope it continues.”
First-year student Graham Lewis agreed and said he likes having access to multiple news sources.
“It’s nice to have world news available,” Lewis said.
Moscatelli said USA Today surveyed 500 students the first day the papers were available, and the reaction was mostly positive.
Despite positive reaction to free papers, other students said they would not want to pay for the program to run a full year.
“I can watch the news on TV and get the same information there,” first-year student Andy Weitnauer said.
First-year student Joe Bush agreed and said although he finds the newspapers convenient, housing already costs too much.
Stubblefield said the department wants to keep housing costs affordable, so officials are considering different possibilities for financing the program.
“It’s too soon to know what we are going to do,” she said. “There are other challenges for next year’s budget and this is just one item to consider.”
Moscatelli said USA Today also surveyed students to determine which papers appeared on the stands, and said The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal could be part of the program if students showed interest.
The Collegiate Readership Program, managed by USA Today, began in 1997 and is now in place at more than 250 schools around the nation.
The free newspapers will be in all residence halls, Riverbend Commons, University Village and Wilkins Hall through Nov. 18.