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Gannett to take over The Lantern business operations

Gannett Company’s Media Network of Central Ohio, which prints and distributes Ohio State’s student newspaper The Lantern, under a new deal will soon manage the paper’s advertising and business operations, starting July 1.

Under the three-year contract, the Gannett Company’s Media Network of Central Ohio (MNCO) will take over The Lantern‘s business operations, including advertising sales, billings and collections, while continuing their printing and distributing responsibilities. The deal, expected to be announced Monday, has left some Lantern student employees “blindsided.”

The Gannett Company Inc., is “a media and marketing solutions company” that manages 82 daily newspapers, including USA Today.

“This was a natural extension of our existing relationship,” said Gifford Weary, dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s one that would allow us to do what we are most concerned with doing well.”

MNCO has been working with The Lantern for about six years to print and distribute about 15,000 copies of The Lantern Monday through Thursday. Internal discussions about expanding the relationship began between 18 months and two years ago when the School of Communication began changing the journalism curriculum, Weary said.

Representatives from the College of Arts and Sciences and MNCO said they felt the expansion would be mutually beneficial.

“You know all the media companies in general these last years have had to do a number of things to move forward,” said Bill Albrecht, president of MNCO. “During the discussion, Ohio State folks really were passionate about wanting to focus on the journalism … that’s a great mission.”

Executive Dean Joseph Steinmetz of the College of Arts and Sciences said the partnership will allow OSU to focus more on the educational side of journalism rather than the operational side by re-allocating resources.

“To go with Gannett is a good move,” Steinmetz said. “To be able to free up resources to put into The Lantern and things that matter … resources that go into the students themselves.”

But when The Lantern business staff learned of the new contract, one student said the staff was “blindsided” and felt the administration failed to consider the experience the student sales staff gained from their work.

“They want to focus on academics … but I think they undervalue the work experience and personal training you get there,” said Matt Harris, a third-year in finance and German who has worked at The Lantern‘s front desk since 2010. “Blindsided – no one saw it coming especially after the awesome year we had.”

Harris said the staff was shocked by the change because The Lantern saw significant financial growth this year.

“This year the advertising revenues were substantially better than they were a year ago, by that I mean they cover the bare minimum aspects of just the business operations of The Lantern,” Weary said.

Despite the financial growth, administrators said the School of Communication must still subsidize a significant portion of The Lantern‘s operations, and the decision to expand the relationship with Gannett will give the paper more financial security.

Although MNCO runs the business operations on other papers it works with, this is the first time they will be expanding into the college newspaper market, Albrecht said, and Steinmetz said it would be an adjustment.

“It’s a three-year contract,” Steinmetz said. “It’s our hope that it will work out and we’ll renew for many years to come.”

Under the terms of the deal, MNCO will annually pay the College of Arts and Sciences, Weary said. Specific contract details were not available. The expansion will have no effect on The Lantern‘s editorial process.

“We’ll have the advertising side … The Lantern will be in control of the look and feel,” Albrecht said.

MNCO representatives said they have not yet met with the current Lantern business staff, and until they do so, could not give any definite decisions on the student sales staff’s employment standing.

Rick Szabrak, general manager for Eagle-Gazette Media in Lancaster, one of MNCO’s affiliates, said, “we’ll adjust with the staff when we talk to them … bottom line is we need people to sell ads and the staff the past year has done a good job.”

There are 14 students who work in The Lantern‘s business office, 12 were set to return next year. The Lantern also has three professional staff members.

Albrecht said they will employ students, but could not assure that the current staff would remain, as the company has not yet met with them.

“We will continue to utilize a student force to get the work done and keep things happening,” he said. “We’ll have our own interview process, but (the current student sales staff) know the process, they know the advisers, they have a great opportunity to keep moving forward going into the fall.”

But Harris said the uncertainty worries him and he does not plan to come back to The Lantern in the fall.

“I don’t want to come back and then find out I don’t have a job,” Harris said. “I’m not going to interview for a job I’ve had for three years.”

One position guaranteed to be eliminated in the deal is that of HR / Fiscal officer, held by Corrie Robbins, who has worked with The Lantern since November and held various jobs within the School of Communication prior to taking her current position.

The university is working with Robbins to find her a position elsewhere at OSU, she said. But her main concern is for the students.

“My concern is mostly the students who work for The Lantern, on both ends,” Robbins said. “The students are always the top priority.”

Dan Caterinicchia, director of student news media, will remain on staff as editorial adviser. Jay Smith, systems manager, will also remain on staff.

MNCO plans to maintain a presence on campus while doing some of its work remotely, Albrecht said.

While Steinmetz said the deal could raise some eyebrows, most people involved said they don’t expect to see much backlash.

“The editorial content process … remains the same. It’s under the control of OSU,” Weary said. “What it really does do is assure two things: the viability of The Lantern as a university newspaper and our focus on the academic programming to support the journalism major.”

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