Daily fears smaller readership under USA Today proposal

Some college papers have seen circulation drop when free national papers were offered.

Stephanie Kudrle

A newspaper distribution program that has affected student newspapers’ circulation at some Big Ten schools might be coming to the University.

USA Today is looking to implement its Collegiate Readership Program campus-wide this fall or next spring, and the Minnesota Student Association is slated to consider the program at its Tuesday meeting.

But a Daily official said the program could affect the student newspaper’s readership and revenues.

USA Today is running a pilot program in the residence halls, which provides free copies of the Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press and USA Today.

USA Today national education manager Robin Bristol said if the pilot is successful, a campus-wide program could be implemented providing free papers paid for with student fees averaging approximately $5 per student each semester.

Bristol said the program’s main goal is to educate students, and that it would not draw revenue from existing campus papers.

Bristol said advertisers interested in national newspapers are different from those interested in college newspapers.

“Student newspapers on campuses with our program are still very well read,” Bristol said.

But Daily President Joseph McKenzie said the Daily opposes the USA Today program.

“We aren’t opposed to competition,” McKenzie said. “But other college newspapers have seen a decline in readership, and readership is one of the factors that influences revenue.”

He said revenue dictates the quality of the paper, and with less money, the Daily would be unable to hire and train as many students in all fields of newspaper operations.

The Daily receives 25 percent of its funding from Student Services Fees and about 70 percent from advertising revenue, McKenzie said.

“To me, the proof that this will hurt us is from other college newspapers,” he said.

The program has affected other campus publications in different ways.

The Daily Collegian, Pennsylvania State University’s student newspaper, has struggled with circulation since the USA Today program started in 1997, General Manager Gerry Hamilton said.

Penn State was the first school in the nation to implement the readership program, according to USA Today.

“Our circulation will drop if our papers are late; their circulation will increase on that same day,” he said.

Hamilton said the Collegian is still the leading newspaper on campus, and he does not expect to lose advertising to the other papers, but he is worried about student readership.

Penn State is one of more than 250 schools that have the Collegiate Readership program on campus.

The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, will begin USA Today’s readership program in the spring.

Pete Recker, circulation manager for The Daily Iowan, said their newspaper is different from the Daily because students receive door-to-door delivery. However, he was still skeptical about the program.

The State News, the student newspaper for Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., is another publication in a Big Ten school with the readership program.

The State News General Manager Marty Sprigg said the paper had not seen competition from the other newspapers on campus for advertisers. He said the paper’s readership had not been affected.