Complaints of Unfair Competition in Columbia, Mo

By Wolper, Allan | Editor & Publisher, August 5, 1995 | Go to article overview

Complaints of Unfair Competition in Columbia, Mo


Wolper, Allan, Editor & Publisher


DARWIN HINDMAN, THE mayor of Columbia, Mo., chuckled as he conjured up a vision of student journalists and their professional rivals scouring his city for a story.

"No city government in America is more carefully scrutinized than this one," said Hindman, a soft spoken 62-year-old attorney.

Hindman was referring to the intense competition between the Missourian, published by the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and the family-owned Columbia Daily Tribune.

But the journalistic free-for-all Hindman referred to has given way to economic warfare that has bedeviled the midwestern community, leading to a difficult question:

Is it fair to have a taxpayer-subsidized university newspaper engage in capitalistic combat with a privately-financed news operation?

"The Missourian is an educational laboratory for the students," Hindman said. "It's a big draw for the school of journalism. The university is a keystone to our economy."

But Hindman said the Tribune's bitterness at having to square off against a state subsidized newspaper has some merit.

"Is it fair?" Hindman asked. "It's a matter of degree. The Tribune's complaints are with the Missourian Weekly shopper, which has all the grocery ads."

The Missourian, the university's 5,000-morning daily newspaper, has an all-student reporting staff, supervised by university-paid faculty editors.

It receives 80% of its operating dollars from the Missourian Weekly, a highly successful 50,000-free-circulation paper that is a mix of student-written articles and grocery ads.

The ad rich weekly infuriates the Tribune and several other Missouri media owners and publishers, who say their tax money is being used against them.

The debate became volatile after two of the media executives were not renominated to the 12-member Missourian Publishing Association executive board, a volunteer group which advises the university's newspapers.

When Gary Rust, president of Rust Communications, in Cape Girardeau, found out he was bounced, he gave his support for a board seat to one of his publishers, Wally Lage, who still lost.

Lage, who said he had to close down his weekly shopper in 1978 because of unfair competition from the Missourian, and Rust now claim they were victimized by an unfair election.

Opening the books

Meanwhile, Henry Waters III, editor and publisher of the 18,500 circulation Tribune, has filed a Freedom of Information suit against the Missourian to force it to open its books.

"We want to know how they're spending the taxpayer's money," said Waters.

"The university's newspaper likes to report on other people's business, but not to tell anyone anything about theirs," Waters added. "That's not the way a public institution should do things. They're even competing against us for printing jobs. I'd like to see their books to see whether they really need to do that."

Dean Mills, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, said he gave the Tribune a breakdown on the university's cash contributions to the Missourian.

"We got about $100,000 a year the past three years," said Mills, who also serves as the Missourian publisher. "But I wasn't going to give Hank my budget. After all, he is competing against us."

Mills said the economic dispute was a classic example of a philosophical disagreement in which both sides had a valid argument.

"The Tribune would not be as big as it was if it weren't for the university," the journalism dean pointed out. "It is the university that makes Columbia an important city."

Columbia is a mini-metropolis of 75,000 people, including the campus population, with another 30,000 people residing in the suburbs.

The Tribune, which began publishing in 1901, had the city to itself until 1908, when the university started the Missourian to give its students on-the-campus job experience.

It seemed in recent years that the two sides might be able to work out an economic truce. …

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