‘Columbia Missourian’ Refutes Negative Report

By: Mark Fitzgerald

A veteran publisher who served briefly as the general manager of the Columbia Missourian says the unique daily — which competes as a community paper while serving as a laboratory for the University of Missouri’s prestigious School of Journalism — is failing financially. But the j-school’s dean described the ex-G.M.’s report as “bizarre.”

The newspaper is “living on borrowed time,” W. Edward Wendover, the retired publisher of the Community Crier newspapers in suburban Detroit, wrote in a report released last week. Wendover, Missourian general manager officially from February to July, says the Missourian share of local newspaper display advertisers has shrunk to about 11%; that in the last three years it has lost supermarket business worth $400,000 annually; and that the paper will require “rapidly rising subsidies,” with the “laboratory support fees” the j-school pays to the paper in danger of rising to $500,000 or more annually.

Dean Mills, dean of the j-school, said Wendover’s assessment of the paper was nonsensical. The paper has been improving financially under General Manager Dan Potter, and the lab fee has been stable for several years at $250,000, Mills said. He added, “Frankly, nothing about [the report] makes much sense.”

Wendover said he was motivated in part by his alarm at proposals from a 2001 task force he said suggested some kind of alliance — and possibly a joint operating agreement — with the rival Columbia Daily Tribune, owned by the Waters family. But Mills said that a JOA was mentioned only in a “glancing” way and was not under consideration.

The evening Tribune‘s daily circulation is 18,682, according to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations’ FAS-FAX report. The daily-circulation figure in the 2002 E&P International Year Book for the Missourian is 7,601, sworn in September 1998.

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