The student journalists at St. John’s University are asking for your help.
Throughout the past year and half, we have dedicated ourselves to the mission of our student newspaper, The Torch, by shaking up our practices and standards to produce high-quality student journalism. Because of this, we received national recognition in the American Scholastic Press Association’s annual newspaper review for the first time since 2009 — a tremendous feat for a student newspaper at a school with a relatively small journalism program.
We also improved the quality of the print version of the paper, but have had to cut back significantly on the number of copies we’re able to print, as the past editorial board inherited a large amount of printing-cost debt.
During the 2016-2017 school year, we worked hard to pay off that debt, but still owe $5,000. The Torch is is entirely volunteer-based, and all of our content is produced by editors and staff writers who are also full-time students. None of our editors, staff writers, or contributors receive any income from working for The Torch; we all do this out of our dedication to and love for journalism. On election night, we were in the office until 5 a.m. writing up a story about Donald Trump’s victory. During a snowstorm last March, we spent roughly one week putting together a huge food edition covering issues surrounding campus dining.
We dedicate weekends to laying out the paper in advance of production night. If you look at our alumni, we’ve produced a few dozen well-respected journalists around the country. Our current and former staffs have interned and/or freelanced at major media companies, or have been hired by reputable organizations following graduation. Several alumni have also gone on to become respected professionals in areas such as marketing, higher education and law. Without The Torch, and the skills it teaches, many of these things would be far more difficult to do.
Because we are financially independent, our cash flow comes entirely from advertising revenue and subscriptions, as well as our annual basketball magazine, Courtside. While we are thankful for our subscribers and advertisers, the income we’ve received while digging ourselves out of debt is no longer enough to sustain the cost of printing the paper, and maintaining an online presence. It’s a trend affecting college and professional newspapers nationwide. And while the university provides us an office space, heat, phone lines, internet access, and electricity, we are responsible for everything else — namely printing costs, website fees, computers, printers, cameras, and newspaper delivery. Occasionally, to help keep the paper afloat, we’ve used our own money to buy our families subscriptions to The Torch — just to get some extra cash in the bank.
The students at our school love to see their work in print, and our readers love the experience of reading from a physical paper rather than a screen. Each week, we struggle to maintain papers for our archives, as they fly off newsstands on campus, or students come to our office to ask for copies.
On several occasions, we’ve been asked for more copies of the paper to be printed, but given our finances, this is simply impossible. At a time when people believe print journalism is “dying,” we’ve seen a surge in our print readership, and want to be able to provide our readers, who consist of students, staff, administration, families and alumni, with a physical copy of our newspaper. Additionally, we continue to build our online presence not only for our readers, but for our staff, who are entering the journalism field at a particularly difficult time for print journalism. Digital skills are a necessity for recent journalism graduates, but even that has come at a tremendous cost to our organization.
Yes, we could appeal to the university for funding, but we don’t feel it’s appropriate. Aside from the funding we receive through advertisements taken out by various departments on campus, we feel that it’s inappropriate, as an independent student newspaper, to seek funding from our school. While we’re grateful to the university for the resources they do provide us, we know it’s not in anyone’s interest for the newspaper to ask for funding. Over time, we’ve seen student news organizations crippled when their budgets are downsized or cut off by their administration or student government over stories they weren’t fond of — and while we wouldn’t expect that to happen at St. John’s, it’s better for us to maintain complete financial independence.
The Torch provides an opportunity for all students — not just those in the journalism programs — the chance to develop and refine their writing abilities, their communication skills, their professional relationships and so much more.
Our paper is a fundamental part of student life at St. John’s. Historically, our organization has covered the most important events on our campus with fair, high-quality journalism for 92 years. We’ve even found sports articles in the archives written by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, just to give you an idea of how long The Torch has been around.
Now, more than ever, our society and our student body are realizing the importance of good, objective journalism. We are dedicated to providing this to the St. John’s community, and to teaching our staff how to do it. We don’t expect to sustain ourselves by crowdfunding, but we are eager to pay off our debts so that we can start fresh, and continue producing a high-quality student newspaper. Your support, in whatever capacity it may be, is greatly appreciated.
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