What We’ve Done

By Tomer Ovadia, Editor in Chief and President of The Daily Californian

While the Daily Cal is seeking support from students through V.O.I.C.E., it is has been working non-stop on many initiatives in order to boost revenue and address the journalism crisis head-on.

Many of these initiatives have already seen remarkable, record-breaking success, and others have set the stage for substantial boosts in revenue in the future.

That is why, unlike other student newspaper fee referendums, we are only asking students to fill a bit less than half of our ongoing deficit. This is the amount we know we will not be able to generate ourselves due to structural shifts in the journalism industry.

As a student at the Haas School of Business who has been meeting with business professors for their advice on our practices, I can attest to the fact that the Daily Cal is changing substantially in the right direction and toward a sound business model. The numbers prove it.

It is worth noting that students are more involved in our business operations than ever. Our sales manager, Lila Suleiman, is a student biological engineering major. She led the restructuring of our sales department to build by far the strongest team we’ve seen in years. Our new marketing department, created by a student, is led by a Pierre Bourbonnais, an industrial engineering freshman. The department is spearheading the Daily Cal’s most important business initiatives.

Below are only some of the many initiatives we are taking on.

1. Restructured Sales Department
In the run-up to the fall 2011 semester, we restructured our sales department and committed ourselves to reinvesting in students. The idea was to tap into the passion and expertise of students interested in business while giving them invaluable experience the Daily Cal has to provide as the largest student-run business on campus.

Our sales manager (a student) carried out the change and saw it through to tremendous success. Our sales department now has more students than in recent memory, who have been around for longer than our sales representatives in recent memory. Our local sales revenue is higher than it has been in years, and was most recently up by 42 percent in February and 24 percent in March compared to last year.

A sales thermometer informs student account executives of their progress, alongside a poster from editors congratulating the sales team for its tremendous success.

The key was in recruitment, restructuring and community:

Recruitment: A successful business must find and hire people who are the right match for the job. That is why we:

  • completely redesigned our recruitment website
  • wrote a personal letter to the community explaining the change and committing to a more student-run organization
  • launched a print and online campaign that sought to reach students interested in business experience and better explain to them what we have to offer
  • recruited heavily at the Haas School of Business, including meeting personally with student and administrative leaders
  • fully incorporated recruitment to business positions into our hiring cycles, so that students know we have opportunities for them to do far more than just write

Restructuring: An organization must provide its students opportunity to move up and take on greater roles and responsibilities. That is why we:

  • immediately promoted a long-time, hard working account executive to sales manager
  • created “sales coordinator” positions below the sales manager, to allow for lower-level leadership opportunities
  • implemented a completely new workflow that focuses on students, accommodates their class schedules and helps them learn and grow
  • created a marketing department that allows for student involvement beyond just sales, so that students can have a role in every aspect of our non-profit

Community: No student sticks around at a student organization that isn’t fun. That is why we:

  • now hold regular socials for our business staff members
  • incorporated our business staff members into our organization as a whole, including our organization-wide Orientation Day

We knew that not only would these changes provide students invaluable business experience, but it would also use their energy to improve the Daily Cal and help it better serve its readers.

2. New Website, plus Online-First Mentality
Recognizing that the opportunities to provide readers quality information have exploded online, we have embraced an online-first mentality that has transformed the Daily Cal into one of the most innovative student journalism labs in the nation. And it has helped our bottom line.

Our old site (left) against our new site (right)

In May 2011, we launched a completely redesigned website that was more dynamic, incorporated social media, showcased more content on the homepage and included engaging features like the breaking news banner and “In the News” line. We have since built upon our redesign to create an in-depth multimedia feature on the Dream Act, a multimedia page, a most popular posts widget, and more. In the works are a revamping of Your Direct Line, a redesign of the Daily Clog, variable front page designs, and much, much more.

Our website is visited by more people more frequently than ever. We got 267,000 visits in March 2012, up from 186,000 visits last March (44% increase). Unique visitors are up to 163,000 from 117,00 (39% increase). Pageviews are up to 550,000 from 382,000 (44% increase).

Our social media presence has exploded as well. We’ve boosted our Facebook likes and Twitter followers to more than almost any other student newspaper in the nation. We have 6,000 Facebook likes, up from 3,000 last April and higher than any student newspaper in the nation except the Daily Tar Heel. We have 7,800 Twitter followers, more than the Stanford Daily’s 2,200 and the Daily Bruin’s 6,200. We won First Place Best Use of Social Media from the California College Media Association in 2010 and will win two awards in that category for 2011 at the award ceremony next week.

We have received praise from major professional newspapers across the nation for our work online and have been sought for partnerships with the Washington Post, Huffington Post and other major media outlets. SoundCloud had us test their program, which was a tremendous success when we recorded Robert Reich’s Occupy Cal speech.

This has helped our bottom line.
Our new website allows for standardized online advertisements, which, along with our significant boost in traffic and engagement, made for nearly triple in online advertising revenue. We made $38,900 in online revenue thus far this fiscal year, up from $13,300 in the same period last fiscal year. (However, online revenue still doesn’t generate nearly as much as print revenue).

3. New donations website, plus dedicated fundraising push
Media outlets are increasingly turning to donations as a source of revenue. That has helped media outlets like the Bay Citzen, California Watch and Frontline publish excellent investigative journalism. The Daily Cal has become increasingly reliant on donations as well. Recognizing that we have many successful alumni who have gone on from the Daily Cal to do great things, we’re reaching out to them to solicit donations more consistently than ever.

We completely revamped our donations website in the fall and have staff members dedicated to fundraising, led by A.J. Kantor, a student. We are also hosting alumni fundraising events, including one next week in Pasadena. Further, we have put together a program to ask companies with many former UC Berkeley students as staff members to sponsor the Daily Cal. Lastly, we regularly run advertisements on our website and paper with information on how members of the public can donate.

We constantly have alumni donations rolling in the door to help support our operations. Their donations not only help the Daily Cal train the next generation of journalists, but also help keep our community informed.

4. Thorough financial tracking and gap analysis
Since September, we have instituted systems to keep closer watch on our sales progress than in recent memory. This allows us to clearly see, on an ongoing basis, where we are financially and what we need to do in order to make our revenue goals.

One of the many examples is gap analysis. Every week, our business managers get together to assess our progress toward the monthly revenue goal and how we plan to fill the remaining gap. Our local sales manager, a student, prepares a detailed report of prospects and actions to be taken.

We also monitor our cash flow continuously, issuing daily reports, which allows us to see ahead of time when issues may arise. A team of students in our finance department produces data projecting months ahead the relationship between our cash inflows and our expenses, so that we are able to pay our bills on time.