Williams College senior administrators have decided to absorb the The Williams Record’s debt, which has been accrued over the past decade. This decision follows a semester of financial discussions among the members of the Record, the Dean’s Office and the Controller’s Office. The total sum absorbed will be the total deficit in the Record’s account at the Controller’s Office at the end of the semester, which is currently estimated at $21,000. At tonight’s College Council (CC) meeting, the Record business manager and editors will propose a framework for financial support from CC beginning next fall.
In an e-mail last Wednesday, Dean Karen Merrill notified Yue-Yi Hwa ’11, Record editor-in-chief, of the decision to absorb the deficit. Merrill cited the substantial size of the debt, as well as confidence in the possibility of the Record working with CC to become financially viable, as factors in the decision. In addition, Merrill said in her e-mail that the senior administrators had also decided to subsidize the publication of the Record’s last two issues of the semester, with the understanding that the Record would try to get as much advertisement revenue as possible.
“We believed we should absorb the debt because it was looking increasingly unrealistic that the Record could repay it, “Merrill said. “While poor spending decisions in the past went into the debt, the Record has also been caught in the economics of running a newspaper in the digital age and in the midst of terrible times economically, which has drastically reduced ad revenue. The Record will have to keep evaluating whether it should make the switch to a purely Web-based format but, at the moment, we believe that the weekly print newspaper is a very important part of the campus community and worth supporting.”
According to Christina Gregory, Controller’s Office accountant, the current deficit for the Record is $15,749, which does not include five outstanding invoices totaling $4,162. Gregory added that at the end of fiscal year 2009, the debt was $12,823. “The Controller’s Office expects the Record to budget their revenue and expenses realistically and monitor their operations carefully to insure that operations run at least at break-even point,” said Susan Hogan, controller.
Members of the Record editorial board first became aware of the extent of the debt in September 2009. The Controller’s Office had contacted Record business staff over the summer before notifying editorial board members soon thereafter. (“Record accrues $12k debt due to lagging revenues,” Oct. 9, 2009). At that time, editorial board members and business staff worked to streamline operating costs by shrinking the number of weekly printed issues and eliminating spending for an end-of-semester banquet.
Records from the Controller’s Office, available from 2002 onward, show that yearly debt began to accrue in the early years of the decade due to revenue lag and overspending on nonessential costs like food and banquets. “Revenue has been declining for as long as we have a record,” said Marcello Halitzer ’12, Record business manager. “National ads have fallen off the most, and local ads have declined as well.” He added that even after cutting unnecessary spending, declining revenue has created a gap between revenue and costs.
Each week, the Record spends approximately $900 for printing 2500 issues of the newspaper, most of which are distributed on campus; $420 for mailing issues of the paper to subscribing customers; $100 in wages for business staff who pick up the paper from Pittsfield, deliver it across campus and prepare the mailings; and $25 for expenses such as software subscriptions and envelopes.
The $1450 in costs of printing and distributing the newspaper is not covered by the average revenue from two main sources: ads and subscriptions. Halitzer said that subscription revenue for the semester has been approximately $550 per week. Ad revenue averaged $450 per week, although Halitzer noted that, despite ad campaigns and leveraging adspace on the Record Web site, some weeks has seen ad revenue as low as $115. “We don’t have contract deals with most advertisers, so ads are entirely contingent on whether people want to advertise for a particular week,” he said.
Due to the week-to-week uncertainty of revenue, the Record editorial board will propose models for financial support to CC tonight in the hopes of securing revenue stability going forward. One of the proposed models involves CC purchasing a weekly ad package that could be distributed among student groups. Halitzer expressed hope that an advertising package could bring consistency to revenue streams.
“I hope that CC and the Record can establish a relationship in which CC contributes some funds to assist the business model of the Record and, in return, student groups would be able to benefit from using advertising space,” said Ifiok Inyang ’11, CC co-president. CC treasurer Francesca Barrett ’12 agreed. “I hope that CC and the Record will be able to come to some agreement about how CC can help the Record moving forward,” she said. “Concerns will obviously be raised about how the Record can remain out of the red in the future and what oversight needs to occur by the CC treasurer to ensure that this situation does not occur again.”
In addition to appealing to CC, the Record will continue to solicit ads and subscriptions. “We’re trying to build contract deals, as well as trying to increase parent and alumni awareness that they can subscribe,” Halitzer said, noting the uncertainty of even those methods.