UNIVERSITY CENTER, MICHIGAN — Pinned to the bulletin board at the editorial offices of the Saginaw Valley State University-based Saginaw Valley Journal is an article entitled “Leggings Aren’t Pants!” An opinion piece featured in a rival campus-run newspaper, the article acts as a constant reminder for the Journal’s editorial staff of “what not to do.”
Looking to provide the SVSU community with a news source that would provide more than “sex columns, Lady Gaga album reviews, and unresearched and disconnected opinion pieces,” then-undergraduate student Michael Westendorf launched both print and online editions of the Saginaw Valley Journal in March of 2009. Its founding editorial reads, “This newspaper was established for the SVSU community; for students, faculty, staff, and the administration. It will be a newspaper’s newspaper, and by that we mean straight, hard news…we want to serve the faculty and staff as much as the students.”
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SVSU students make up the entirety of the Journal’s editorial staff, though Westendorf says any qualified journalist, student or no, would be considered for the paid positions. Though the Journal does not receive funding from the university, student workers are eligible to receive college credit. Students from the college’s department of rhetoric and professional writing may intern with the site; Westendorf hopes to extend the same opportunity to students at the college’s business school.
The bulk of the Journal’s content concerns campus life, including goings-on within the university’s administration. For example, the Journal broke the news that the university’s college of education would raise its minimum GPA standards. (Read the piece for an example of the combative tone that one might be surprised to find in a publication based at small Midwestern university.) According to Westendorf, other scoops include stories on “the university’s large student fund raising competition, the student elections, and board of control news.”
The Journal is published by Sterling Hoffman, a Michigan-based media company. Westendorf is the company’s chairman and CEO. Starting in the fall of 2011, Westendorf opted to put his studies at the university on hold in order to focus full-time on the company. He is currently in the process of launching Michigan Capitol Insider, which will cover politics in the city of Lansing as well as the Michigan state legislature.
In addition to its web presence, the Journal publishes a monthly campus-wide print edition, which Westendorf refers to as the site’s “dead tree counterpart”.
“The website is 24/7…with print, it’s a balance between how much editorial we have along with revenue concerns. One can be much more liberal on the web, in terms of space and costs,” he says.
The Journal is one of the few campus publications in the country to operate as a for-profit. When starting the Journal, Westendorf believed that it was important to receive funding outside of the university. He can get a bit heated on the subject: “I sought to change the unethical financial marriage between The Valley Vanguard [SVSU’s traditional student newspaper] and the university. Accepting funding from a subject of coverage, such as students, the university, student government, etc., in our opinion, is an unforgivable breach of journalistic principles. It was important that The Saginaw Valley Journal never accept funding from students, the university, or taxpayers.” The site’s sole source of revenue is direct sale advertising. (Westendorf declines to discuss revenue figures.)
The indie status leaves the Journal free to wage war on the student group equivalent of pork barrel spending. “I can proudly say that since we’ve been around, ‘needless’ spending from student organizations, who are allocated vast sums of money, has decreased tremendously,” says Westendorf. “The student government, for instance, stopped its lavish summer retreats and has reduced its salaries for its officers because we kept covering what they were doing.” Aspiring student body presidents with expensive taste will have to find another place to go to college.
The Saginaw Valley Journal Data
Name: The Saginaw Valley Journal
City: University Center