Fighting for funding

The Torch budget is under scrutiny

You can find it in the newspaper racks in the IRC and on the tables at Cranker’s. It keeps you up-to-date on campus events, gives you the inside scoop on Bulldog athletics and sparks conversation on a variety of controversial topics.

It’s your campus student newspaper, The Torch, and it’s in financial trouble.

For many students, The Torch is as much a part of Ferris as Brutus the Bulldog and Wing Nite at Westview. However, decreasing advertising revenue combined with a new focus on the independent student newspaper’s budget has resulted in a murky future.

The Torch has generated advertising revenue as high as $97,000 in 2007-08, but that dipped with the national recession each of the last four years to a low of $56,000 last year. The College of Arts & Sciences traditionally pays the operating costs not covered by revenues to the tune of $30,000 to $45,000 during that same time period, but the recent budget scrutiny has cast a shadow of uncertainty on The Torch’s future.

In September, the Torch was challenged to analyze its business plan and current operations as well as prove its value to the university after receiving the strong message that it will not be funded at the same level as recent years.

The paper has been funded through the College of Arts & Sciences’ $21 million budget. It is the largest college at the university, with a total $192 million budget.

College of Arts & Sciences’ funding has covered the award-winning newspaper’s operating deficit each year with little question. It was a convoluted system of financial support that has been called a “bail out,” among other things, handled at the end of each academic year.

For more than a decade, The Torch staff has produced a print and online newspaper on a fraction of the budget when compared to many other similar student newspapers around the country. In recent years, The Torch has been recognized at its highest level in decades through awards.

Dave Clark, Editor-in-Chief of the local newspaper The Pioneer, values the role The Torch plays in the relationship between Ferris and the Big Rapids community.

“Without The Torch, community engagement would be harmed,” he said. “People wouldn’t know what’s going on at Ferris. No one would be at Entertainment Unlimited events, and speakers would be presenting to empty seats.”

A graduate of Central Michigan University with a degree in journalism, Clark moved to Big Rapids seven years ago. One of the first things he did was pick up The Torch.

He was curious about the student newspaper and was “pleasantly surprised” by what he read. In the years since he picked up his first copy, Clark has seen The Torch “get better and better every year.”

“The Torch is now attracting a higher caliber of student journalists,” he said. “Based on the awards the newspaper has won, other people agree.”

For its efforts during the 2011-12 academic year, The Torch earned 14 awards from the Michigan Collegiate Press Association. The awards ranged from honorable mention for an investigative story to first place for an original cartoon. The Torch received third place for “General Excellence,” marking the second consecutive year to be honored in the top three in that category as being among the state’s best overall newspapers.

In addition, the Torch received national recognition from the Associated Collegiate Press when a writer received honorable mention for Story of the Year in the Editorial/Opinion category.

Despite improvement and recognition, loss of funding still looms.

“I’m a fan of The Torch,” Clark said. “To extinguish that voice would be a crime. There’s no better outlet for student voices than a student newspaper.”

Clark wants to know what will replace The Torch as a platform for student voices and believes the administration is responsible for providing an alternative.

“Whatever the administration provides will not be as effective as what The Torch has been doing for nearly 100 years,” he said.

Since 1931, The Torch has been Ferris State University’s primary source for campus news. The registered student organization publishes a weekly 16-page newspaper during the academic year and has a circulation of approximately 4,300 free copies.

The Torch keeps students informed about and connected to campus events and community activities including entertainment, athletics, arts, enrichment and academics.

Dr. Katherine Harris, interim department head for the Languages and Literature Department, believes “The Torch is the perfect example of what is great about Ferris State University.”

“Torch staff members come from all majors to provide a diversity of opinions as well as excite campus conversation,” Harris said. “This makes for a more dynamic and meaningful university experience.”

Harris is among those advocating for more stable Torch funding. More than just a special educational opportunity, Harris recognizes how The Torch influences not only staff lives but the campus community and the greater community as well.

“We need to work together as a university community to maintain commitment to the newspaper and be responsible for the way we fund and support it,” she said.

Currently, The Torch employs 33 students ranging from editors and writers to page designers, advertising sales representatives and distribution staff. The paper prides itself on being student-led and student-run. Essentially, the independent student newspaper is a lab in which staff members are engaged in a constant learning experience.

Ferris alumnus and former Editor-in-Chief of The Torch Kelsey Schnell said his experience at the student newspaper gave him an edge over other applicants when he entered the work force after graduation. Schnell graduated in 2010 with a business administration degree and now works as the public relations and marketing officer for the Mackinac State Historic Parks.

“It allowed me a real-life working environment that far exceeded that of computer simulations, management models and group-work assignments,” Schnell said. “It provided an environment for the actual application of theory as taught in the classroom.”

According to Schnell, his Torch experience reflected university founder Woodbridge Ferris’ mantra of “Industry and Opportunity.” Schnell can think of few places which so fully realize the university’s purpose “to create, support and enhance the learner-centered environment that is central to the university mission of preparing students for successful careers, responsible citizenship, and lifelong learning in a rapidly changing global economy and society.”

Torch staff members work together to provide a public forum where student voices can be heard. Adhering to the journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy, The Torch provides a platform for students to talk and share ideas.

“[The Torch provided] a real-life work and education environment that prepared me for my career in countless ways. It is a mass communication delivery system that promotes varying ideas on any number of subjects and inspires conversation among its readers,” Schnell said. “What better example than a newspaper for the rapid change and yet fundamental importance lifelong learning plays in a ‘changing global economy and society?’”


I attended FSU for two years as a journalism major before I transferred, and working at the Torch gave me the tools necessary to write for any class or purpose needed. Many years after I left FSU, I taught English classes at private college, and you can bet I taught my students about finding credible sources, doing research, and creating a compelling storyline. All this I learned at the Torch.

I worked at the Torch for a semester as a delivery girl and the year after that I visited the office often, having made many friends and enjoying hearing about the “goings on” around campus. Shame on FSU for thinking of cutting the Torch. It is a valuable resource for Ferris and even Big Rapids. Nothing I like more than to sit down after a long day and read the newspaper.

I worked at the torch for 4 years while at Ferris. While I was there, I met many people I still call friends and actually learned how the real world worked. If a mistake was made, there were consequences. If something went well, there were rewards.

Our supervisor always encouraged us to be professional, but to be ourselves at the same time. Most of the skills that actually got me noticed in job interviews came from there. I learned negotiation, training skills, interviewing skills, management, and was still able to find ways to use my degree.

I’m out in the new world doing well at this point. I have the Torch and Laura Anger to thank for that.

Out of curiosity, are most student newspapers funded by colleges in a university, or by the university itself?

It’s hard to say if “most” college newspapers are, but the ones that are well funded and handled appropriately are funded by student fees or funded based on the number of students – the students “subscribe” to the newspaper.

As someone who worked at The Torch for two years during my college career, I cannot put into words the amount of experience I gained working there. I don’t believe there is another on-campus job that gives you the amount of hands-on experience that actually translates to the real world, even outside of journalism.

I wouldn’t have met half of the people I knew in college outside of my regular group of friends if not for The Torch, and would not have been able to tell many of the stories of the great things people are doing on campus.

I think it would be a grave mistake to let The Torch slip away. For a school that is growing each year and has no problem putting HDTVs and the such in building lobbies, I think a solution can be found.

The removal of the Torch would be an infringement upon Ferris Student’s freedom of speech. The Torch not
only notifies students of upcoming events, but it covers controversial topics from different parts of the globe. Big Rapids is not the most “culturally enriched” city out there, if you know what I mean, and the removal of the Torch would only further add to the community’s ignorance.

I participate in theater at FSU and without the Torch many students would have no idea that there was a play or musical going on, regardless of posters, as most people don’t take the time to look at a wall, but they will look at a newspaper.

If there’s a report of where my tuition money is going, I want to know. Or if a class I want to take looks like it won’t go through without more students then I want that information so I can do something about it. I know that I hardly pay attention to the e-mails I get from Ferris and I’m sure many others do too, but the Torch catches my eye.

o you see the Torch is beneficial for the knowledge of all the students on campus. It’s our right to know, and you will not take our right away.

As a former Editor-in-Chief of the Ferris State Torch, I can tell you that this paper has a profound impact on the student body. It ignites controversy, discussion and enthusiasm. Taking away such a vital contribution to the student and general population would be a shame. The funding that this program requires each year is minimal. And every penny is worth it.

Don’t make a mistake you’ll regret, Ferris.

I attended Ferris for 5 years. In that time I regularly picked up the torch to find out about the events and news going on on campus. Without it I would have never known about even half of the events. I feel that it would be easy to find money within the budget, don’t buy new chairs this semester for a classroom, use the ones that are perfectly fine and just are old and dont look as snazzy.

I think we should keep the Torch, but it is honestly a terribly written newspaper in my book. The writing is sloppy, along with the layout, articles are full of errors, misquoted people, and overall dumb features. The “Overheard at Ferris” section has the dumbest quotes. The adviser or editor must seriously not do a whole lot of proof reading or double-checking. A lot of the “articles” are just the writer ranting about their views… It’s a great thing to have but it needs to be drastically improved.

You should apply for a job at The Torch, we’re losing a lot of our staff because they’re graduating this May. We also like seeing letters to the editor, and responses to articles. While I don’t agree with your statements, I will always agree that there is room for improvement. If you want to make something better, you’ve got to have the initiative to do it!

Why is the Torch operating budget under Arts & Science and not the school of business? What am I missing here? That’s your first problem…here’s a novel concept, start operating like a business and stop the happy BS of associating with acedemics. You’re producing a product to attract readers, that includes the editorial and the advertising. The “if you build it, they will come philosophy” approach doesn’t work anymore. Get out and hit the streets and get business, EVERYONE on staff, including editors and writers…you’re the product, so go sell yourself. That’s if you really care about the survival of the Torch and that’s how the real world of publishing works. You just got a free lesson from a former Bulldog…

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