The University of Hawaii Manoa student newspaper is hoping for a student fee increase to help it survive in the digital age.

Ka Leo O Hawaii, founded in 1922 and funded by advertising revenue and mandatory student fees, hasn’t seen a student fee increase since the 1980s. Investing in a revamped smartphone app and website drained the newspaper’s rainy day fund in spite of cuts to its printing and circulation budget.

In addition, aging equipment and a general lack of student interest in news reporting hamper the paper.

After nine years of weighing a fee increase, the Student Media Board, which governs student-run campus media groups, is expected to vote on a proposal later this month.

Ka Leo O Hawaii, UH Manoa newspaper dispenser at Hemenway Hall, UH campus.

Green bins holding Ka Leo newspapers can be found all over the UH Manoa campus and in surrounding neighborhoods.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

All groups governed by the student organization would benefit from the fee increase, including the campus radio station KTUH, the student video production organization UH Productions and the student literary journal Hawaii Review.

If the proposal is approved by the student board, it would then go to a vote of the UH Board of Regents, which sets policy for the 10-campus statewide system.

At the earliest, the fee increase would take effect in the fall 2018 semester.

Facing Cutbacks, Building New Platforms

Ka Leo Editor in Chief Spencer Oshita said most of the paper’s resources lately have been dedicated to a smartphone app overhaul. Web developers and editorial staff members have put a lot of time into the app. Part of the challenge, he said, is creating new features to keep users engaged.

The app, called Manoa Now, allows users to receive push notifications for breaking news and video content. Users can also register for class, load their campus dining cards with extra dollars, plan a route to class with a map or access content from other student media organizations.

Ka Leo won Best in Show for the 2017 College Pele Awards, a Hawaii-based graphic design competition.

Its website has also been updated and rebranded as Manoa Now, or manoanow.org.

During the transition, Oshita said the newspaper’s staffing levels and content have taken a hit. Now that the app is finished, the paper is trying to circle back and beef up content to make the app even better.

Decreasing UH enrollment has hurt the paper’s bottom line. From the 2016 to the 2017 fiscal year, it saw a 5 percent decrease in student fee revenue — about $426,000. This fiscal year, Oshita said the paper expects an additional 10 percent decrease in student fees.

And then there’s the issue of getting students to apply for reporting jobs — and stick around.

“As the joke goes, the shelf life of a Ka Leo news reporter is two weeks,” Oshita said.

Inside the UH Manoa campus newspaper Ka Leo O Hawaii newsroom in the dark. Most students are out until the Aug 21 start of the fall semester.

The Ka Leo office will be a quiet place until fall semester begins Aug 21.

For one, there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in news. People like to share their opinions or write about movies, but aren’t interested in reporting. A recent applicant to the paper’s distribution team said she didn’t even know Ka Leo covered news.

Many students underestimate the time and effort involved in reporting a news story and some leave in search of better pay. Getting $20 for an article that took 10 to 15 hours isn’t enough pay for everyone, he said, adding some Ka Leo staff members work two or three jobs.

Some of Ka Leo’s computers are too old to support new software, he said. A fee increase would allow Ka Leo to purchase better equipment and software — particularly for the design, photo and video desks. It’s a college paper, he said, and some equipment has been broken irresponsibly, but it’s also heavily used and outdated.

Using modern technology prepares students for entry-level positions, Oshita said.

“Student media programs in general provide a type of experience that you really couldn’t get in a lot of other places,” he said.

Looking For Extra Funding

The mandatory Board of Publications fee on student tuition bills helps fund Ka Leo and Hawaii Review, and would incrementally increase from its current fee of $13 per semester by an undetermined amount. The Broadcast Communication Authority fee, which serves KTUH and UH Productions, would follow the same schedule — it is currently $3.

The neediest of the Student Media Board groups is Ka Leo, said Sandy Matsui, faculty advisor to the board. But she said other groups could also use more money and are now turning to donations and advertisements, in addition to making spending and staff reductions.

“Ka Leo is the one that’s had to go through the greatest transition in the media world,” Matsui said.

Advertisers began to feel they weren’t getting a return on their investment and started pulling out of Ka Leo, she said. Ka Leo used to bring in as much as $300,000 annually in advertising revenue, but now makes as little as $100,000.

“Ka Leo is the one that’s had to go through the greatest transition in the media world.”

Over the years, Ka Leo went from a daily to a biweekly paper.

Students just don’t get their news from a newspaper anymore, Matsui said, and college media groups nationwide have disappeared. Ka Leo has operated at a deficit for six or seven years, she said.

The Student Media Board is one of five “chartered student organizations” at UH Manoa and is mostly comprised of students.

The only other one petitioning for a fee increase is the Graduate Student Organization, which wants to award bigger grants and awards to more students, said the organization’s president, Taylor Lewis. Last year, 152 out of 207 applicants received funding, but the organization estimated about 40 more students could be served under the new fee increase.

Defending ‘A Reasonable Fee’

The Student Media Board has been considering a fee increase since 2008.

“Everybody’s been working really hard to keep (the proposed fee increase) reasonable because everyone is impacted by it and we don’t want to put students at a disadvantage by adding a big fee,” said Media Board Chair Emily Cardinali. “We want to make a reasonable fee that can accommodate things like inflation and cost of living.”

Student media impacts most UH students — whether they want to voice their opinion, DJ on the radio, or use the Manoa Now app to check bus times, Cardinali said. When the board brings its proposal to the regents, she hopes to show that student media elevates “the university experience,” provides students with real-world experience and is looking to the future with its new digital platforms.

The board has sought student feedback and overall, she thinks students support a fee increase and want to see “healthy” student media programs.

“(Student media) is pretty much an opportunity for everybody because we have students from every major and every class standing in our programs, so overall the feedback has been positive,” Cardinali said.

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