UNC-CH newspaper turns to fundraising

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The Daily Tar Heel, the 123-year-old student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is adding charitable fundraising to the nonprofit business model it launched in 1989.

Founded in 1893 as a publication of the school’s Athletic Association, the DTH for most of its history was supported by fees from students, who picked the editor in a campus-wide election.

But in 1993, a student referendum the newspaper sponsored ended the student fee and put the selection of the editor in the hands of an independent board created by the board of directors of a nonprofit created at the time to publish the newspaper.

Advertising sales had been generating enough revenue to cover operating costs, and the newspaper “wanted to give student fees back” for other campus organizations to use, while also removing “even the possible appearance of influence” from the university, says Kelly Wolff, general manager and director of the nonprofit, DTH Media Corp.

For the past five years, however, the nonprofit has posted an annual operating deficit ranging from $50,000 to over $100,000 on a budget of roughly $1 million, making up the difference from a reserve fund. And it now faces the need to replace outmoded newsroom technology, and provide scholarships and travel expenses for student staff, she says.

It has formed an alumni association to spearhead an annual fund campaign and host receptions throughout the U.S. And it is preparing for a capital campaign to raise about $300,000 or more.

“We are starting for the first time to ask our alumni to support the parts of our educational mission that are no longer being fully supported by our ad revenue,” Wolff says.

Operating in an office in downtown Chapel Hill — it moved off campus in 2010 — and with a professional staff of four people working full-time and two working part-time, the newspaper employs 80 students in news, advertising, customer service and production jobs. Another 150 students work as volunteers in training.

The student staff produces 14,000 copies of the newspaper five days a week when school is in session. The paper is distributed at 225 sites on and off campus, including Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, southeast Durham and northern Chatham County.

The newspaper also publishes an online version that attracts 10,500 unique visitors, on average, each school day.

The student editor hires the newsroom staff, each of whom is paid $200 to $700 a month. DTH Media Corp. employs a newsroom adviser who provides a training for the staff and volunteers.

A student advertising manager and staff of 25 handle all ad sales under the direction of a non-student advertising director.

Last fall, DTH Media Corp. began piloting a new business, DTH Media Services, with public-relations students from UNC working with clients to produce brand content.

The new alumni association has developed a list of 2,000 alumni, will distribute an alumni newsletter three times a year, and in February hosted an inaugural homecoming event.

It included two days of workshops and a dinner that attracted 60 alumni and presented its first Distinguished Alumni Award to Edwin M. Yoder Jr., who served in 1955-56 as DTH co-editor and in 1979 won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing at The Washington Star.

The alumni association, Wolff says, will focus on fundraising, networking among alumni for their own professional development, and mentoring students.