Joni Mitchell originally used the phrase in her song “Big Yellow Taxi” to reference environmental issues, but “you don't know what you've got ’til it’s gone” certainly also resonates with the current state of affairs for Drexel University’s student-run newspaper, The Triangle.
On Jan. 25, the paper’s editorial staff announced that the organization no longer had the funds to continue printing the physical edition of the weekly publication. They may have just printed the last issue ever, the announcement said, but staff called on students to help change that.
“We were able to avoid this situation a few times before,” said current Triangle Editor-in-Chief Mike Avena, a fifth-year information systems major in the College of Computing & Informatics, following the announcement.
He was recalling the paper’s financial troubles which have been going on for years. As recently as last summer, the paper nearly depleted its funds following a $12,000 loss due to printing costs over the course of the year (it costs roughly $1,000 a week to print the paper). They were able to scrape money together based on what they were owed from advertisers and continue printing up until this term. Now, they’re out of options, and asking for each of the University’s nearly 16,000 undergraduates to donate $1 to the Triangle, which would allow them to continue printing through spring term.
“It would mean that we could continue printing until we find a way for us to be sustainable,” Avena said.
The Triangle was founded 93 years ago in 1926, and has remained editorially and financially independent from the University as per its original charter, save for the rent-free office space the organization occupies in MacAlister Hall.
“I don’t think there are any Drexel [alumni] still around who remember when the Triangle wasn’t there,” Avena said.
Former faculty advisor to The Triangle Ron Bishop, PhD, a professor of communication for the College of Arts and Sciences, and current advisor Scott Warnock, PhD, a professor of English for the College, agreed that The Triangle is a cultural institution whose value needs to be reinvigorated within the Drexel community, as well as with advertisers.
“It’s not a student’s impulse right now, because of the current culture, to pick up the paper and read it,” Warnock said.
This culture shift is not just a problem for The Triangle. Readership and advertising sales are declining for newspapers across the country. Avena said the paper no longer boasts long-term, regular advertisers as it did a few years ago.
The student staff, along with advisors and Triangle alumni, is now looking into both new financial and content avenues that can help them maintain sustainability and interest within the Drexel community.
“What we are considering doing is expanding out from publishing just on Friday,” Avena said, “posting more important and time-sensitive stories during the week, and saving Friday for our feature pieces.”
Avena said they’re also working with Drexel’s Office of Institutional Advancement, which is helping to promote the fundraising campaign through the Drexel Fund website, as well as through marketing outreach and purchasing ad space in the paper to raise awareness of the campaign. Student staff also met with President John Fry to discuss his suggestions of how the University could help.
“They’re doing quite a bit to help us fundraise,” Avena said of the University’s outreach following the announcement. “The response overall was very surprising.”
Bishop suggested that the students also look into grant funding, and commended their persistence to generate readership and funds. However, he said success in such endeavors all depends on how much time the students — who already have full course loads — can devote to it.
“A lot of good ideas have been raised recently, but they would require the students, who are already running the paper, to do the leg work,” Warnock concurred.
All-in-all, both the students and faculty involved with The Triangle are looking toward the Drexel community to support this time-honored Drexel tradition, and importantly, maintain its independence.
“I think the most important thing for us is to remain editorially sound,” Avena said. “We don’t want to compromise the reputation we have for balanced journalism.”
And although it may not be missed until it’s gone, Warnock said he hopes the community sees how The Triangle is a “unifying experience” for the University that would be devastating if lost.
“I think that in a time when everybody is narrow cast to some degree, getting the things we want to see and the viewpoints you want, the Triangle, when you pick it up, is a shared experience,” he said. “I hope people rally to support something that is essentially part of the University and part of the University’s lifeblood.
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