Earlier this week, Boston University student newspaper The Daily Free Press — known as the FreeP — was in serious trouble. Student editors announced that the newspaper, which is independent from the university, had to raise close to $US70,000 by the end of the year in order to continue publishing a print version.
The FreeP’s leadership decided to turn to crowdsourced fundraising, launching a page on GoFundMe. As the page explained, even though the paper had seriously cut costs by switching from a daily publishing schedule to a weekly model, their publisher wanted to resolve a significant portion of their debt by the end of 2014.
“As of November 1, 2014, The FreeP’s total debt is $US67,953.19 … If we have not resolved a majority of this debt by December 31st, 2014, BU’s only print newspaper will cease to exist,” according to the FreeP’s GoFundMe page.
Two days after launching their GoFundMe campaign, the FreeP announced that they had already exceeded their goal, raising nearly $US20,000 from small online donations and receiving two major donations that would save the paper — $US50,000 from local car dealer Ernie Boch Jr. and $US10,000 from Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
Business Insider spoke to O’Reilly — who spent three semesters as a FreeP columnist while in BU’s journalism masters program — about his experiences at the student newspaper and why he decided to help save it.
Aside from the hockey team, O’Reilly said, there’s not much that unites BU’s massive student body — there are more than 30,000 students currently on campus, including undergraduates and graduate students. During his time as a student in the 1970s, the FreeP provided a space for students to write letters and offer their opinions about issues on campus.
“The paper was that [unifying force], because it was during the end of the Vietnam situation and there was a lot of stuff going on … It was the one vehicle that gathered students together,” O’Reilly said.
As a student columnist, the FreeP helped O’Reilly hone his voice as a writer, as he covered major issues such as Boston’s school bus desegregation.
O’Reilly said that his positive experiences at the paper motivated him to help keep it afloat. “We had a blast, it was just a great experience … I wanted other students at the school to have the same experience I did,” he said.
Part of the benefit of being on the FreeP staff is the hands-on experience students get outside of the classroom.
O’Reilly compared being a journalist to being a professional athlete. Because journalism is so competitive, he said, “You have to get experience, you have to train.”
Students also have the rare opportunity to work at an independent organisation. The FreeP makes money through advertising, and takes no funding from BU. In fact, the paper actually pays the university to rent space on campus.
“It’s a very positive experience when you have a newspaper not run by teachers,” O’Reilly said, in part because remaining independent allows the BU student journalists to critique the school.
“When we were there, [the FreeP] was a pain in the butt” to the university’s administration, O’Reilly said.
The other major donor to the FreeP’s fund is Ernie Boch Jr., a local car dealer. Boch is currently travelling, and was not available to speak with Business Insider, but a spokesperson sent the following statement on his behalf:
Newspapers at the local, regional, daily and, yes, collegiate level are all vital parts of our democracy. A vibrant newspaper ensures for a free exchange of ideas and Boston University’s independent student-run newspaper, The Daily Free Press, should continue to have that opportunity for its readers. On behalf of Subaru of New England, I am donating $US50,000.00 to the fundraising campaign that will ensure the print version of The Daily Free Press stays alive and viable. START THE PRESSES.
Now that the FreeP is funded and will continue to print, the newspaper will hopefully remain a vehicle for student’s voices on campus. According to O’Reilly, a strong student newspaper will provoke debate.
“We were successful because we were feisty and aggressive and we stirred it up,” O’Reilly said. “You have to stir it up, just like I do now on television.”
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