Rolled-up newspaper and rolls of bills

UPDATE: We got 33 applicants and visited two schools in 2018. Both reported huge sales increases. So we won a grant to expand the concept for the 2019-20 school year. Email me for details.

What’s better than free money? Free lessons for making money.

Two lucky but struggling college newspapers will receive just that. Want to be one of them?

The Society of Professional Journalists and CMBAM (short for College Media Business and Advertising Managers) are teaming up to send an advertising expert to your school. They’ll scrutinize your business and show you how sell more, charge more, and collect more. You’ll pay nothing.

If it works, SPJ and CMBAM might spread the concept to all student newspapers desperately seeking to put the “rev” back in their revenue. Sadly, that seems to be most of them.

For details, read on. First, some background…

If this concept sounds familiar, I mentioned it last month during Save Student Newsrooms Day – which I called “kind of stupid.” I was kind of right.

The #SaveStudentNewsrooms hashtag was created by students at my alma mater, the University of Florida. (Is it still my alma mater if I was expelled?) A big part of their mission was about money…

Student-run media organizations need to start calling attention to the challenges we face, as many of us fight to maintain financial independence and an increasing number of us now face concerns of editorial independence.

…but all they did was orchestrate a day when 100 college newspapers agreed “to publish editorials highlighting the need for student media and the importance of supporting it.”

Yeah, because readers just love it when their newspaper not only glorifies itself, but guilts you into worshipping right along with it.

Not surprisingly, the three #SaveStudentNewsrooms founders were none too pleased with my opinion. But hey, if journalists can’t handle criticism, they should pursue a less-stressful career. Like librarian or park ranger.

To their credit, those three women still spoke with me on a Google Hangout. On May 1, I offered to pay for a CMBAM expert to visit a large school newspaper and a small one – and I’d let them choose both from among the 100 newspapers who signed up to support their hashtag.

These women properly and skeptically asked me who was donating the cash. Not Russia: I’m the longest-serving board member with the Society of Professional Journalists, and I pledged a big chunk of my annual budget for this worthy project.

I asked for some names within a week, and they agreed. It’s now half a month later, and I haven’t heard back from any of them. Not a peep. These aren’t slackers, either. One is interning at The Wall Street Journal, another at The New York Times.

Then again, I’ve had more than one problem with The New York Times. So screw it. Here’s how to save your own newsroom…

I’ve conspired with CMBAM president Chris Richert, and we’re looking for…

  • A large student newspaper. We define this as a paper big enough to have its own student sales staff – maybe led or assisted by a part-time or full-time professional.
  • A small student newspaper. Basically, a paper that can’t convince students to sell and relies on an outside pro or agency to sell all their ads.

What you’ll get…

A couple of video calls with a proven expert to define your problem. Your expert will also review all your marketing materials and your sales flow before flying out to meet you.

Among the technical questions you’ll meticulously answer together…

  • Where do you recruit your ad reps and how do you train them?
  • Do your reps sell by territory or category or both? What’s the right one or the best mix for your market?
  • How are they paid? Base salary or straight commission? Draw against a commission? Are commissions based on dollars, linage, or both?
  • Which advertisers are getting response and which aren’t? Any trends either way?
  • Can your sales kit be improved? What other marketing materials do you have or need to enhance?
  • What are your up-sell possibilities? What’s your churn rate, and how can you lure these advertisers back?
  • How do you feel about native advertising? Can it be done both ethically and profitably?

If this works, you’ll learn the best practices and latest techniques for selling more ads. If that’s not enough to turn a profit, maybe you can at least break even instead of going broke.

But what if it doesn’t work?

What if your expert comes and goes, and your ad revenue keeps plummeting? Well, then we’ll know: Print on your campus is really, finally dead. Time for transformation, because you now have proof that spending more on black ink means more red ink.

In a way, that’s reassuring. With evidence comes confidence: You’re really not risking much by trying something new. If that’s the result of our experiment, it was SPJ money well spent.Click the blue box above and fill out a very short application. (Seriously, it’s like two real questions.) Deadline is Friday, June 15.

Questions? Holler: And good luck. If you run a college newspaper, you probably need it.