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Funding for SOU student newspaper may end

Funding for Southern Oregon University's The Siskiyou newspaper is slated to be cut next school year, leaving editorial staff without pay.

The cut, proposed by the school's student fee committee, comes two years after the publication discontinued its print newspaper in favor of an online-only platform.

"This year it was seen that The Siskiyou was not making optimal use of their funding," said Lora Stamper, chair of the student fee committee.

The committee acts as a steward of mandatory student fees collected each term, divvying up the money to clubs, resource centers, athletics and events in the student union.

Since the publication's transition online, advertising revenue has dropped off completely, and the current site, www.siskiyou.sou.edu, doesn't display a single advertisement.

The cut needs to be approved by the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University president and the university president.

"We didn't try to fight it because the reason we were given for the cut was our failure to generate revenue (ads) over the past couple of years, which makes complete sense," says first-year editor Shannon Houston. "We didn't figure it'd be worth it to fight."

Houston said she and all the other editors were new to the Siskiyou this year and found no system for advertising in place.

"From what I understand, The Siskiyou never adopted an online ad system since leaving print in 2011," said Houston. "In our case, our revenue issues stem just from a lack of system, period."

Former editor Nia Towne, who spearheaded a transition from print to online in January 2012, said when she left the newspaper later that year, advertising was solid.

Towne said the online publication had enough advertisements to end 2012 by breaking even, with ads covering the wages of four part-time section editors.

The paper follows a large number of student publications that have eliminated print editions or produce them less frequently, focusing on online and mobile platforms.

The University of Oregon's Daily Emerald newspaper restructured in June 2012, switching from five days a week to twice-weekly, choosing to focus more on the digital side.

While that school's successful transition has garnered attention from publications across the county, not all print-to-digital transitions have fared as well.

In addition to the loss of advertising, the amount of content produced by the staff has shrunk since the Siskiyou moved online, with only a half-dozen stories posted on the site in the last week.

When the Siskiyou transitioned online, editors said the switch would allow the publication to be more interactive with students, but Houston said it's difficult to reach students without the print edition lying around campus.

"I do know our visibility has decreased, being online only," said Houston. "It makes it harder to let students know that we're even around. In the long run, that (will) probably affect revenue."

During the 2010-11 school year, when the Siskiyou last produced a print edition, 3,000 12-page issues were distributed each week. About 12 to 15 writers contributed content, along with five paid editors. The papers were placed in bins across campus, at Rogue Community College and at a handful of other spots around Ashland.

Under the current setup, stories are written by the editors and about 10 students who volunteer or write for academic credit. In the last week, Houston said, online traffic has given the site about 1,100 hits.

Even without pay, Houston and some other editors plan to continue running the newspaper next year, and they are working to secure advertising, Houston said.

If they make enough money, it would be nice to bring back some type of print publication, too, she said.

Stamper said the Siskiyou could apply to the student fee committee next year for funding for the following year.

"Ideally we'd be able to set up a system and make enough to get (the funding) back," said Houston. "We'll see what happens."

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.