Virginia Tech student media balances its budget to keep publishing | Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG — We’re still here.

That’s the message from Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech two years after the campus newspaper and other student media entities found themselves in danger of closure.

“It’s like that scene in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ when the [Bailey Building and Loan] has $2 left at the end of the day, but they’re still in business,” General Manager Kiley Lynn Thompson said. “That’s where we are. We’ve stopped bleeding money.”

EMCVT is a private, nonprofit organization that produces five student-run media products for the Tech community under a 2016 contract with the university, including The Collegiate Times newspaper, The Bugle yearbook, VTTV television programming, WUVT radio broadcasting and Silhouette Literary & Art Magazine.

The company faced financial trouble and staff turmoil in 2015. Over the past two years, a new board of directors made up of alumni have restructured the organization and taken over financial management, which for many years had been controlled by students. The board negotiated an updated contract with Tech. The previous contract had been in force since 1997.

Under the new contract, which was obtained by The Roanoke Times through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the university increased its financial contribution to student media products from $70,000 a year to $80,000 in 2016 and $90,000 this year. EMCVT was designated as a campus Registered Student Organization and has maintained its suite of offices in Squires Student Center, according to the contract. The organization also agreed to an annual audit of its finances, paid for in part by the university. Additionally, Tech officials serve on the organization’s board of directors.

The new contract expires in 2018, but can be renewed.

EMCVT is funded primarily by advertising revenues, which are now sold by Boston-based consulting firm MediaMate, Thompson said. Ads used to be sold by a student-led entity called College Media Solutions, which has been dissolved. MediaMate can sell full-page ads to large companies such as Verizon, something student ad sellers couldn’t do in the past, Thompson added.

Before the restructuring, the company’s revenues dropped annually, from a high of $995,656 in 2008 to a low of $428,457 in 2014, according to federal tax filings. And it lost money nine out of 10 years.

More recent financial documents were not available, pending an audit required under the new contract, Thompson said. 2015 revenues were slightly lower than the previous year, but expense reductions have brought the budget into balance, she said.

Coming into the black required significant cutting. Thompson said the newspaper publishes one day a week, down from two. The board of directors canceled or renegotiated service contracts, cut student employee stipends and reduced the organization’s professional staff from four full-time positions to one part-time general manager, Thompson. The organization also sold a house it owned on North Main Street, and is free of the mortgage and upkeep costs it entailed.

Thompson, herself an EMCVT alumna from the 1990s, said she came on board to make sure today’s students have the same opportunities student media gave to her.

“My degree is one thing. It taught me how to think,” she said. “But my practical experience with managing people, and organization, and journalism and everything, I learned on this [media] hall.”

The company’s troubles can even prepare today’s students for their future careers.

“My main mantra is that I want them to leave here with marketable skills that will set them apart from other students out in the job force,” Thompson said. “I want them to be able to say: ‘I had to cut staff to keep printing. I had to balance a budget to keep printing.’”

Things are looking up for the once troubled organization.

Its flagship product, The Collegiate Times, was one of three student newspapers chosen recently for the Poynter College Media Project, which provides training in and funding for investigative journalism to promote civil discourse on controversial topics, according to the Poynter website. The project is funded in part by the Charles Koch Foundation.

Matt Jones, a senior mathematics major and this year’s CT editor-in-chief, led the application process.

“Relative to a lot of college newspapers I saw before coming here, I was really impressed with the CT,” he said. “Even though I knew I was coming into a paper with some issues at the time, I was pretty confident there was definitely some potential there.”

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