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U of L Student Newspaper Contemplates Life After Funding Dropped

University of Louisville
J. Tyler Franklin
University of Louisville

The University of Louisville’s student newspaper, the Louisville Cardinal, is scrambling to find new sources of revenue after the school’s administration announced it would no longer purchase advertising in the paper. The ad revenue has accounted for as much as 40 percent of the paper’s income.

The decision is part of a university-wide belt-tightening to offset a $48 million projected budget shortfall. The cut has staffers and advisers at the 91-year-old publication concerned about its future.

In the Louisville Cardinal newsroom Friday afternoon, located in the basement of the Houchens building on U of L’s Belknap Campus, several members of the editorial staff worked over lunch and discussed next Tuesday’s issue of the weekly publication with faculty adviser, Ralph Merkel.

The university administration does not oversee the paper’s editorial content, but the U of L president and provost offices have for years purchased advertising space in the paper.

Last year, ads purchased from U of L amounted to $60,000 in revenue for the paper; that number dipped to $20,000 for the current year. Merkel said U of L's cuts are a bigger hit than anyone expected.

“We went from 60-grand to no-grand. If we don’t find other sources of revenue, both short and long term, it endangers the future of the paper," he said.

The university said no one was available from the administration to comment on tape about the cut. But U of L spokesman John Karman issued a written statement:
“The University of Louisville is facing significant financial challenges. These challenges impact all departments. The loss of university funding for The Cardinal is unfortunate. University administration is hopeful that the student paper will be able to secure funding from other sources.”

“You can’t put a price on it, which we don’t put a price on it,” said Janet Dake, the Cardinal’s news editor. She said the paper’s impact on the university community can’t be overstated.

“It’s a totally free news service to all the students, and we’re really unique in the fact that we’re independent of the university, so we can call out the university when it’s necessary,” Dake said.

The Cardinal has done just that, with award-winning coverage of big stories like the recent turmoil within the university administration that has threatened U of L’s accreditation, and the NCAA investigation of the men’s basketball program.

Many former staffers at the Cardinal have gone on to professional careers in journalism, and this week some of them banded together to buy a full-page ad in the next issue voicing their support for the paper.

Shelby Brown, the Cardinal’s assistant editor-in-chief, said this support makes her optimistic the paper will survive.

“The response from the community, from seasoned reporters that we all look up to has been immense, and people have just been coming out of the woodwork, being like ‘the Cardinal’s where I got my start.’ And that’s encouraging for a journalist to hear, who’s just starting out,” Brown said.

Faculty advisor Ralph Merkel said the Cardinal is not alone in having financial struggles. It’s happening across the country.

“Printed newspapers are trying to refigure their budget models," he said. "Subscriptions are down, advertising is down for a bunch of different reasons. I think those that are flourishing get some amount, if not full support of the administration.”

As for the future, Merkel said the Cardinal needs an infusion of enough cash to leverage a new business model — a model that will allow it to thrive without financial support from the administration, and remain the voice of the campus.

“I was asked by someone else earlier today what distinguishes the Cardinal from all the other student newspapers," Merkel said. "We cover U of L! This is our beat."

Disclosures: The Cardinal’s current editor-in-chief, Kyeland Jackson, is also a producer and reporter at WFPL. Our executive editor, Stephen George, is a former editor at the Cardinal and a part of the group who bought the ad in the next issue. 

Rick Howlett was midday host and the host of LPM's weekly talk show, "In Conversation." He was with LPM from 2001-2023 and held many different titles, including Morning Edition host, Assignment Editor and Interim News Director. He died in August 2023. Read a remembrance of Rick here.

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