Howard officials halted production of the school’s student newspaper last week, after staff confusion led to thousands of dollars in unpaid printing bills.
The Hilltop, which switched to daily publication in 2005, was founded at the historically black university in 1924. The paper receives university funding but staff members said a majority of its money came from advertisements. Last week the paper owed The Washington Times – its printer – about $48,000, business manager Ashley Marshall said.
Marshall said the paper was unable to acquire enough advertisements last summer because of failure to train new staff members since the paper became daily.
“When we transitioned to a daily paper, many staff members were placed in roles they were not trained in, and coupled with a decline in print advertising, we didn’t have the resources or time to counter any problems,” she said.
Drew Costley, the paper’s editor, told the Black College Wire news service that business staff neglected to send invoices to advertisers, leading to much of the debt. Costley did not respond to several messages from The Hatchet.
Franklin Chambers, vice provost for student affairs at Howard, said the school shut the The Hilltop down in order to solve any ongoing problems and disburse the existing debt.
“The board, which comprises students, faculty, and staff made the decision (to halt publication) in order to prevent the paper from incurring additional costs until the outstanding debt is retired,” Chambers said.
He added that the paper will continue online publication until it becomes financially stable. The Web site has not been substantially updated since March 12.
The paper’s current financial situation could be remedied by emphasizing the newspaper’s finances, Marshall said. She said she is optimistic that most of their debt would recede by the end of the academic year.
“Fortunately, the university and many alumni are trying to help us with our issues,” she said. “It’s important we fix the fundamental issues that are causing the existing problems.”
Frank LoMonte, executive director for the Student Press Law Center, a non-profit organization that advocates for student media, said while he has heard of many newspapers being halted by the administration, it was unusual for a newspaper to be discontinued during a semester.
“Normally if you have a newspaper that ceases publication, for financial and budget reasons or the like, you would expect that to occur at the end of a term,” he said.
He added that the problems likely arose from a lack of communication between the newspaper and the university.
“It seems like a terrible communication problem between the students and administration,” LoMonte said. “It’s a shame that a problem should come to this extreme of an ending.”
Howard junior Ashley Guinn said she heard the newspaper’s fate on television and was disappointed to hear that she would only be able to read any new issues online.
“I love the Hilltop; it’s such a great thing to read while passing the time on the walk between classes,” she said.
Melanie Igwe, a senior at Howard, said the Hilltop was an integral part of being a Howard student and she hopes it returns soon.
“I would definitely say The Hilltop is a crucial part of our campus,” she said, “It keeps us informed and helps garner a sense of community here.”
While the university undergoes steps to bring the print edition of Howard’s student newspaper back, the Hilltop plans to continue to publish online.