Student guest post: The Daily Tar Heel celebrates 125 years, but it needs your help for 125 more

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PEOPLE LINE UP TO BUY EXTRA COPIES OF THE DAILY TAR HEEL A DAY AFTER THE MEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM WON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN APRIL 2017. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JOCK LAUTERER)

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the sixth of those posts. Ana Irizarry is a senior studying journalism and political science. She is the state and national news editor at The Daily Tar Heel, a reporter for N.C. Business News Wire and previously interned for The Herald-Sun in Durham.

The Daily Tar Heel, UNC-Chapel Hill’s independent, student-run newspaper, will turn 125 years old on Friday, Feb. 23.

The DTH’s 125th Anniversary Conference and Gala, which takes place Feb. 23-25, will celebrate over a century of independent student journalism. The weekend will involve panels and speakers discussing the past and future of journalism and The Daily Tar Heel.

Alongside celebrations, the newspaper and its student journalists will (hopefully) raise money to fund the continuation of the paper’s mission to “aggressively pursue all news of the University, University community and all who are affected by the University.”

It’s no secret the DTH has struggled financially since 2011. The paper’s former general manager, Betsy O’Donovan, wrote a post for Medium about the situation, and The Poynter Institute reported on it.

At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the paper was operating on a deficit of more than $300,000. By the end of the year, O’Donovan helped cut the paper’s debt to less than $30,000 — mostly thanks to the sale of over 50,000 papers after UNC’s men’s basketball team won the NCAA national championship.

The paper will relocate from its East Rosemary Street location to a smaller office across the street to help save money. The development of The 1893 Brand Studio and Friends of The Daily Tar Heel have also helped raise money for the nonprofit.

I started working at The Daily Tar Heel the second semester of my sophomore year.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Looking back, my first assignment covering a news conference about textbook funding seems minuscule. I could write that story in my sleep if I had to today. But in January 2016, the task seemed monumental.

That first story was a crash course in AP style, interviewing and deadline writing. As the weeks went on, my articles were cleaner, and I got faster at writing.

The semester I started at The Daily Tar Heel was also the semester I took my first news writing class, and as much as I loved that class and as much as I learned from my instructor, it didn’t compare to the education I got from my real-world experience.

Now as an editor for the paper, I know more about the journalism side — although I can always learn more — but I don’t know much about the business side.

Last school year, The Daily Tar Heel held “money talks” every Friday to go over the paper’s financial situation. At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the paper’s new editors were informed on the situation. While we can brainstorm strategies to improve our finances, we need help from our community.

We need to hear what works, what doesn’t and what the community needs from us.

The rise of the internet spurred the decline of print journalism — and student journalism was no exception. U.S. newspaper advertisement revenue peaked in 2005 at over $49.4 billion, according to data collected by the Pew Research Center. Newspapers collected an estimated $18.3 billion from advertising in 2016 — a 69 percent plummet in 11 years. Independent college newspapers like The Daily Tar Heel and George Washington University’s The Hatchet are facing similar realities.

Even university-funded newspapers are under threat: Many fear funding cuts and censorship, such as the University of Louisville’s The Louisville Cardinal and Wesleyan University’s The Argus.

The numbers seem dismal, but I believe in the role The Daily Tar Heel plays in the university and in the Chapel Hill community. Serving as not only the university’s paper, The Daily Tar Heel acts as the paper of record for Chapel Hill. It has reported local elections, Town Council meetings and local housing. It also educates future journalists like me.

If you’d like to celebrate The Daily Tar Heel’s 125th anniversary and have it run 125 more years, consider donating here.

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