Over the past several years, they could hardly have had bigger news to report. The young journalists at the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, covered stories that made international headlines: murder, leadership crises, allegations of rape and racial attacks.
But even as its student reporters were going after the news, the paper’s business side was struggling.
It was selling fewer ads — like many newspapers, at colleges and everywhere else — and the paper, completely independent from the college and without a professional staff or faculty advisory board — didn’t have a new plan to make up that revenue elsewhere.
With students graduating each year, and with no journalism school or other institutional memory, “it’s easy for people to forget or fall behind on things — they don’t have the context to address long-term trends that are challenging,” said Matthew Cameron, the president of the Cavalier Daily Alumni Association.
The editor-in-chief, Julia Horowitz, knew that the paper owed the university a lot of money for back rent, although it has been paying rent in full since last November. But she was surprised when U-Va. officials told her that unless the paper could pledge to pay the $55,000 bill by Aug. 5, the Cav Daily’s large staff would have to move into a much smaller space.
Instead of a 2,100-square-foot office, the staff of more than 100 students would share one measuring only 380 square feet. It just didn’t seem viable, Horowitz said; it would accommodate only about a tenth of the staff. They knew the university has a lot of demands for space from student groups, especially at the center of campus, where the newspaper office is, she added. “It was the urgency that surprised us.”
A university spokesman said there had been progress made in recent discussions with Cavalier Daily leadership and that the university looks forward to continuing to work with them.
Horowitz, the managing board of the paper and the Cavalier Daily Alumni Association sent a letter to alumni and other supports warning that the 125-year-old newspaper’s survival might be at stake unless they could quickly raise a lot of cash.
Within 14 hours, she said, they had gotten pledges to cover the $55,000 debt.
Cameron said they were greatly helped by an anonymous donor who offered to match $20,000 worth of donations.
Horowitz thinks the paper’s long history was important for donors, but she also felt people “understood that the paper has been at the forefront of a lot of very difficult issues in the past few years.” The staff used Freedom of Information Act requests to pull documents during the flagship university’s highly public leadership crisis, for example, and have delved deeply into student safety, transparency of governance, sexual assault and race relations at the school.
“It has been an awful year,” Horowitz said, “but we were forced to confront issues that are important on every college campus.”
That includes finances. Now, as the newspaper evolves, increasingly digital- and mobile-focused, Horowitz said she and her colleagues think they have found some solid new sources of revenue to keep it on campus for the foreseeable future.