Newspaper's Woes Hit Journalists' Training Ground For a century, University of Missouri journalism students have learned the craft by working at the Columbia Missourian. But now that newspaper's troubles could lead to big changes and take away a training ground for student journalists.
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Newspaper's Woes Hit Journalists' Training Ground

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Newspaper's Woes Hit Journalists' Training Ground

Newspaper's Woes Hit Journalists' Training Ground

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Even though Columbia, Missouri, is a small city with around 100,000 people, it's long sustained two daily newspapers. One of those papers is attached to the University of Missouri, which has the country's oldest school of journalism. But like a lot of dailies, it's struggling these days. Sara Wittmeyer of member-station KBIA has more.

SARA WITTMEYER: For the past century, Columbia's had two papers. The Tribune is the evening paper. It's been in the Waters family nearly since the beginning. The Missourian is the morning paper. It's located on the University of Missouri's campus and staffed by faculty editors and student reporters.

Unidentified Man: What else have we got cooking that you all are going to be working on that we can expect through the weekend? Yeah.

Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible)

WITTMEYER: The Missourian is still able to compete with the larger-circulating Tribune because it's subsidized by the university. But with the school in financial straits and looking to make cuts, the Missourian is a target because it's running a deficit expected to exceed $1 million. But those who work at the Missourian say it's more than just a newspaper. It's about maintaining a training ground for the nation's journalists.

Chad Day is the assistant city editor at the Missourian and edits his fellow students' copy. He says what the Missourian offers is sink-or-swim training.

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible) can't come in obit-wise, just go ahead and pick it up and then just let me know. Write the last name down. Obits…

Mr. CHAD DAY (Assistant City Editor, The Missourian): What I'm reporting on are the same thing that a professional is reporting on anywhere else, and we hold ourselves to the same type of professional standards.

WITTMEYER: Some think the paper should only publish online. Others argue it should continue to be subsidized as much as necessary by the university. And some are calling for a partnership with the city's second daily, the Tribune.

Mr. HENRY J. WATERS III(ph) (Editor and Publisher, Columbia Tribune): I'm Henry J. Waters III, and I'm known as Hank more than Henry J.

WITTMEYER: Hank Waters is the editor and publisher of the Columbia Tribune. Not surprisingly, he likes the idea of working out an arrangement with the Missourian. In exchange for picking up printing costs, the Tribune would keep the Missourian's ad revenue and gain access to its highly desirable campus readership.

Mr. WATERS: There are some very good student newspapers and other print newspapers at other journalism schools that are not commercial. They didn't try to go out and compete in the marketplace, but they provided good standards for their kids to write. That part's important.

WITTMEYER: It's clear that Hank Waters is a businessman who needs to turn a profit. It's less clear how his style would jibe with the mission of what he terms a student newspaper.

The two papers have always been competitors, and some criticize any arrangement with the Tribune as getting in bed with Hank. Dan Potter is the general manager of the Columbia Missourian. He's heard from alumni and community members since news of the paper's financial situation broke and says it's clear they don't want the paper to get very far away from what it's doing now.

Mr. DAN POTTER (General Manager, Columbia Missourian): I have a very romantic view about the Missourian. We give birth to so many people that go on to become managing editor of the New York Times or Jim Lehrer, you know, who's a graduate of ours. We give birth to so many people who make such a difference to this country and democracy that I think we're one of the most important daily newspapers in the world.

WITTMEYER: Many of those alumni who started their careers working at the Missourian return to campus next month for the paper's centennial celebration, but the party will take place under a cloud of uncertainty. The publishing board isn't expected to reach a decision until after the centennial.

In the meantime, all those connected with the paper will continue to search for answers about what to do with both the Missourian and the declining fortunes of newspapers across the country. For NPR News, I'm Sara Wittmeyer in Columbia, Missouri.

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