J&PR Wired

The O: Responding to Double-whammy Changes in Economy, Technologies

By Veronica Richardson

Orion Students
The fall 2013 Orion management team at a weekly meeting discussing story placement. Credit: Katelyn Somers

California's economic recovery appears to be under way, which is good news for The Orion.

As of August 2013, The Orion, Chico State's student-run newspaper, was carrying accumulated debt of almost $78,000. The debt is the result of several years of severe economic downturn, coupled with declining print readership and increasing printing costs.

In an effort to reduce the deficit, The Orion drastically cut the page count of the print edition, expanded efforts toward becoming daily digital, cut stipends for the editorial staff, reduced the hours of its operations adviser, cut its travel and equipment budgets, and switched to an independently hosted WordPress website.

However, the newspaper is still struggling to attract advertising dollars, which had been a major source of income for The Orion in the past.

"It's been a strong year editorially but a rocky year financially," said Mark Plenke, adviser of the Orion.

During spring of 2013, The Orion management team worked diligently to create a reasonable budget and business plan for decreasing the deficit. One of the ideas they came up with was to ask the university for a share of the College of Communication and Education's Instructionally Related Activities funds. As a result, The Orion received roughly $25,000 in IRA funding for fall 2013, which will cover half of the printing costs for the academic year.

The Orion's management team also decided to pitch a plan to the Associated Students Sustainability Office to fund a smart phone app that would promote daily digital and be considered a move toward "green."

"We launched The Orion app last fall but did not effectively use it until the spring," Plenke said. "The sustainability office granted The Orion $5,000 to fund an effort to market the app and increase the number of people who have downloaded it to their phones."

An additional aspect of the sustainability deal would be decreasing the number of paper printed.

"If we could raise the downloads of the app to 2,000 then we would cut 1,000 from our circulation," Plenke said. "We currently are close to 19,000 downloads so we will print 5,000 papers instead of 6,000."

During the spring 2013 semester, The Orion decided they needed a larger effort to support the mobile app and brought in a four-person public relations team.

"We have worked with programs like Taste of Chico and Up Til' Dawn to get The Orion name out there," said Nabila Lerohl, a PR option major and Orion PR team member. "We're still in our first semester so there has been some trial and error but we're learning what it takes to make a successful PR platform for the future."

So with these plans in place, what is the future for the Orion?

"We would really like to diversify the revenue streams for the paper and expand the number of platforms the paper is in including advertising on the app and on theorion.com," Plenke said.

In order to expand the number of publishing platforms, fall 2013 Editor-in-Chief Ben Mullin has been discussing ideas to put together a tablet magazine for The Orion.

"I applied for some grant funding to make an iPad magazine created by The Orion," Mullin said. "If I get the funding it's going to be an interactive magazine you can swipe and touch with more in-depth stories."

The newspaper had always remained financially independent of the university, so asking for money from the university and the other tactics they implemented show how serious the students want to make a change.

"I think the days are gone when you could depend on newspaper display ads to pay all the bills," Plenke said.