Paper changes to keep up with media shift

Toni Martin, the first Editor-in-Chief of the independent Daily Californian, stands with her staff in the Daily Californian newsroom.  This photo was taken in 1971, the first year of the Daily Cal's independence. - Toni Martin/Courtesy
Toni Martin, the first Editor-in-Chief of the independent Daily Californian, stands with her staff in the Daily Californian newsroom. This photo was taken in 1971, the first year of the Daily Cal's independence. - Toni Martin/Courtesy

In the 40 years since The Daily Californian first declared its independence, the paper has worked to remain an autonomous and financially stable news source for the Berkeley community, despite falling advertising income and increasing costs.

Developing a strong online presence, utilizing social media and fundraising have become greater priorities for the paper as it works to keep up with a changing media industry.

The paper launched a student life blog in November 2006, and the publication’s online presence has continued to increase. Most recently, the Daily Cal Twitter account reached over 4,000 followers on Sept. 15, 2011.

However, the shifting emphasis from print to online news has challenged the newspaper, mirroring the current obstacles the industry faces.

Other independent college newspapers are also experiencing ongoing financial difficulties. The Independent Florida Alligator at the University of Floridawhich declared its independence in 1973 after the administration disapproved of publishing a listing of abortion clinics in the area, since abortion was illegal at the time — has cut back paid positions and is working to improve its website, according to Editor in Chief Elizabeth Behrman.

“It’s a struggle,” she said. “We’re feeling the pitfalls of the industry just like the other papers and want to able to continue providing for the students.”

Despite challenges, the Daily Cal remains strong, earning 23 first place awards from the California College Media Association from 2007 to 2011.

According to current Editor in Chief Tomer Ovadia, the paper will be “increasingly reliant” on alumni donations and is also considering a student fee referendum for stable revenue.

“This fee would keep us accountable to the people we seek to serve — the students,” he said. “The student fee can act as a cushion to ensure not only the success of the Daily Cal but buttress communication between students.”

In the past, the Daily Cal has sacrificed print publication days in order to mitigate tight finances.

On Aug. 26, 2008, Editor in Chief Bryan Thomas announced that the paper would cut print publication on Wednesdays. During the same period, other local newspapers experienced even more drastic cuts — the East Bay Daily News closed earlier that March, and the Berkeley Daily Planet reduced its publication to one day per week in April 2008.

“The Daily Cal is certainly unique in Berkeley, functioning as an entirely student-produced publication which is financially and editorially independent,” Thomas wrote in his announcement. “But it is not immune to the tides of change.”

On Sept. 17, 1993, Editor in Chief Nick Perlmuter announced that publication would move to a thrice-weekly schedule. The paper did not resume five days of publication until 1995.

“As a business, we must make hard decisions,” Perlmuter wrote. “To be blunt, if the economy suffers, we suffer.”

The Daily Californian senior editorial board’s writings have continued to elicit debate, with some backlash leading to newspaper theft.

On Nov. 5, 1996, nearly 23,000 papers were stolen after the board endorsed Proposition 209. The contentious proposition prohibits California public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in the admissions process.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates stole roughly 1,000 copies of the Nov. 4, 2002 edition endorsing his opponent, then-mayor Shirley Dean.

According to Interim Dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Tom Goldstein, the paper’s independence lends it strength in a “precarious market.”

“Being independent is so important and part of the DNA of the newspaper,” he said. “The independence of the paper gives it its credibility.”

Alisha Azevedo is the lead academics and administration reporter.