Written by James Bell
After budget cuts recently threatened the existence of The Purple and White, the student newspaper at Millsaps, several students and faculty are working to revive the paper to its decades-long prominence on campus by overhauling its online presence and creating its first print issue in five years.
The newspaper, first published in 1909, was on the brink of folding for good at the end of the 2018 spring semester after college leaders decided to discontinue funding. Previously funded through the Division of Student Life, the paper’s staff was guaranteed no funding from the college beginning in the fall of 2018.
Former Dean of Students Brit Katz told the Purple and White in an interview last year that the decision to suspend funding was made when budget cuts became necessary in his department, and because the newspaper, which moved to an online-only format in 2014, had previously relied on advertising revenue to operate.
“I took the question to the executive staff of the college,” Katz said in an interview prior to his retirement last school year. “After significant discussion of various factors – including how much money publications were spending on ad revenue and how many students were participating in the publications as contrasted with other programs and services in which larger numbers of students might be participating – the very difficult decision was made then to suspend funding in the manner with which it had been.”
When he learned of the decision to defund the P&W, Millsaps English professor Michael Pickard got to work. Pickad, who said he was “convinced of the paper’s importance to the Millsaps community,” reached out to his colleagues Eric Griffin, chair of the English Department, and Anita DeRouen, director of writing and teaching. In consultation with Millsaps Provost Keith Dunn, the group decided to provide funding for the newspaper through the English Department beginning in the 2018-2019 school year.
Before the college’s decision to defund the paper in 2018, the annual budget was about $11,000. The new funding structure that Pickard and the English Department created beginning in the 2018-2019 school year gave the paper an annual budget of $7,500. That level of funding, which continues this academic year, is being provided through diverted gift accounts within the English Department budget.
But even with the funding lifeline from the English Department, the paper still faced obstacles. Many faculty and students were unaware of the paper’s continued online presence, and in recent years, that online presence has been inconsistent.
Tasked with addressing dwindling student interest and a lack of general brand awareness on campus, Pickard and Adam Ganucheau, a statewide political reporter for the online news website Mississippi Today and the current staff advisor to the P&W, have worked with student journalists since the fall of 2018 to make the paper relevant to the campus community.
At the end of the 2019 spring semester, Pickard and Ganucheau decided to run the paper through Pickard’s “History of the Media” course this fall.
The class meets twice a week and is split into three groups once a week: One group is working with Ganucheau to create the first print issue of the P&W since 2014; one is working with Pickard to expand the paper’s online presence in both the website and social media; and the third is working with Pickard to plan a December 4 symposium that will debut the paper’s rebrand and provide attendees with a reminder of why the paper is important.
“(The P&W) is a voice for students, by students,” said Areial Thomas, a sophomore communications and creative writing major, who is working on the P&W this fall. “I just feel like it’s very important that we get the outlet to express ourselves because I also feel like so many of us struggle with things that we may not necessarily talk about. For example, I’m writing on mental health, focusing on the black community at Millsaps. It’s just an issue that we don’t talk about very often, and I feel like The Purple and White is the outlet to express that issue.”
While the printing of the paper and the symposium will occur at the end of the semester, students in the class have worked all semester to redesign the website and create new means of online engagement.
A group of students launched a P&W website series called “Blast from the Past,” in which members of the staff respond to articles from the older days of the P&W with their own interpretations and ideas. The students have also linked to campus calendars and the school’s Flickr photo page.
Another group of students created an Instagram account called “Humans of Millsaps,” which features pictures and short profiles of students and faculty. The brand was inspired by a popular account called “Humans of New York.”
Following the classroom format this semester, the paper’s operations will become academically independent beginning in the spring semester. The goal for next semester, Ganucheau said, will be new articles and other content appearing regularly online. Applications for staff positions will be posted and made public in coming weeks.
“I think The Purple and White is important because it helps students to be aware of what’s going on,” said Candace McKenzie, a sophomore communications major who is in the class this semester. “I bet a lot of the issues we’re talking about in the articles that are going to come out, a lot of them are issues students may not even be aware of. It gives students a voice.”
The December 4 symposium is free to attend and is open to all students, faculty, staff and other interested people.