The Daily Pennsylvanian's Board of Directors wrapped up a busy first half of 2014 by adopting an integrated three-pronged strategy focused on building a ‘digital-first’ culture while continuing the DP’s century-plus tradition as a printed daily; ensuring the organization’s long-term financial viability, and nurturing student innovation.
The goal: make the DP the country’s most respected and innovative college media organization, with the products to match.
The Board, which includes five current DP students and four alumni steeped in media and entrepreneurial experience, was created to make the tough, strategic decisions that all-student boards — which change every year — have had trouble making in the past. This new plan was adopted unanimously by the nine-member Board.
As part of the new focus on digital, the Board decided to cease publishing the print edition of the DP on Fridays starting this fall. The change allows the students to focus more attention on creating online content throughout the day and on weekends. The Friday print edition was the hardest to get in readers' hands, because many Penn students no longer take Friday classes. One less day of publication per week means less pressure to fill the paper, less time tied strictly to print production, and less money spent printing and delivering a physical edition — all while maintaining current advertising levels. It also allows 34th Street Magazine, which is structured as a weekend magazine, to sit on campus all the way through Sunday.
“We are still The Daily Pennsylvanian and we will still publish daily,” says DP Executive Editor Taylor Culliver. And more of that content will be published online first. “This will be driving a cultural change in our newsroom,” he says. “We are not retreating from print, but creating time to do a much better job online.”
The Board also focused on the DP’s financial viability. The DP’s revenue, nearly all from advertising, has dropped by nearly 40% since the start of the Great Recession, causing the organization to post significant losses for the past six years. Although the paper's expense budget had been cut by more than $400,000 over that time, it wasn't enough to offset even-larger fall-off in advertising. Accordingly, the Board focused most of its time in this area on the professional staff, which accounted for more than 40% of annual expenses in a much smaller budget, and made the tough decision to downsize from five to three full-time professionals.
These expense reductions, coupled with the Board’s optimism about the organization’s future and strong ($3+ million) financial reserves, will allow the formation of an Innovation Fund to support long-term investments in projects that exercise the organization’s ‘innovation muscle,’ a capability that the Board feels has been declining while the DP has struggled financially in recent years.
The fund, which will be finalized later this year, will enable spending by student editors and managers with some oversight by the Board. Ideas that have already been discussed: increased investment in video, more travel to cover off-campus stories, and more student training.
The staff cutbacks were difficult. Three of the current professionals will remain with the DP: Jacobs, who will take on more day-to-day financial and operational duties; Katherine Ross, a 19-year DP veteran, who will transition from finance into directing sales, marketing and promotion; and Office Manager Donna Kuzma, who will add advertising design and printer coordination to her duties. Longtime Advertising Director Dave Graham was the most significant departure. Graham, who began work at the DP as the paper's first Advertising Adviser in 1993, was popular with students for his training and mentoring, his sharp humor (much of it directed at himself), and his willingness to tackle every new project and task that was handed to him. He completed his work at the DP at the beginning of July, following a two-month transition. (Read more about Graham, who was honored by the DP earlier this year, here.)
The staff reductions are a retrenchment from a plan to grow revenue by adding a professional sales rep to the DP ad sales team. This strategy, implemented by the DP student board last year in consultation with committee of alums, met with mixed success.
These moves helped result in something that the DP hasn’t seen this decade: a budget for the next academic year that’s pretty close to break-even. And that in turn will give the DP the ability to foster a culture of innovation, making investments as needed. Going forward, the DP is determined to find new ways to deliver content to the Penn community, and new business models that will let the organization thrive in the decades ahead. The DP of the future is unlikely to generate all its revenue from ads in the newspaper or its websites — and that's okay, says Jacobs. "News is our mission, but not our only business. We're likely to develop new revenue sources that are less tied to the newspaper they will fund."
Additionally, this emphasis will support the DP’s longstanding mission of providing a valuable learning experience for its student staff that prepares it for the real-world. Many DP reporters and photographers, says Jacobs, have been functioning around a print production schedule not much changed from students who ran the paper in the 1970s. “That’s just not the way journalists work in 2014. We owe it to our students to provide them exposure to tools and skills of the current media landscape.”
For perspectives on the changes at the DP from two members of the DP Board of Directors, click here to read comments from student Executive Editor Taylor Culliver, and click here to read comments from alumni director Michael Silver.
Do you have questions or concerns about the restructuring and changes at the DP? The Board wants to be completely open and transparent to our alumni, and we encourage you to send an email with any questions you have. Questions and responses will be posted in our next DPAA newsletter.