The Nevada Sagebrush, the 128-year-old student newspaper at the University of Nevada, Reno is now an online-only publication because the last newspaper printing press in Northern Nevada closed down.
The last newsprint edition of the Sagebrush was in December. It’s the end of an era, but student journalists are upbeat about the switch to digital publication. “Print has slowly been dying in all kinds of forms,” said Emmerson Drewes, Sagebrush editor. “It is nice to hold a newspaper in your hand, but the convenience of a phone is a lot more ideal for the technological age.”
The paper would have to be printed elsewhere and shipping the issues to Reno would cost around $15,000, she said. That’s too steep a price tag for the student-run publication. The Sagebrush continues to regularly publish new issues on its website, but if readers aren’t following the paper on social media, they won’t know when new issues or stories are available.
All Northern Nevada print publications are hobbled by the loss of the printing press. The Reno Gazette-Journal is printed in Chico, CA and shipped over the Sierra six days a week. The Reno News & Review, which returned to an ink-on-paper edition after two years of online-only publication, is printed in Las Vegas. The June RN&R edition cost twice as much to produce than it did in March 2020, when the print edition shut down during the pandemic closures.
“There are some efforts to bring back print editions,” Drewes said. “It would not be a traditional newspaper, probably in a kind of magazine format. It would probably be something like a small pamphlet, but nothing is in the works (now).’’
The Sagebrush gets its revenue from fundraisers, donations and advertising sales. Selling advertising is more of a challenge for digital-only periodicals.
The newspaper is staying afloat by using its reserve funds to pay staffers, who will be redesigning the paper’s website over the summer break. They are also focusing on hiring new staff members and fundraising.
The Sagebrush’s recent bake sale raised around $90. The event also was aimed at increasing the newspaper’s visibility on campus and attracting new writers. Drewes said the paper will have to rely on its reserves to keep the online edition viable. The Sagebrush’s annual budget is about $26,000. The Nevada Sagebrush Alumni Chapter helps fund the publication.
Former Sagebrush editor Guy Clifton, who is active in the alumni organization, said their annual dinner fundraiser has been on a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the loss of the press, the alumni held an emergency meeting to come up with a strategy for the newspaper’s survival. “Our conversation is largely about saving the budget and finding new ways of funding the Sagebrush, who (can) get involved in that and how to do it,” said Mike Higdon, Nevada Sagebrush Alumni Chapter president.
The money raised will go to pay the paper’s expenses and the salaries of its student editors and writers.
“We need to focus on (having) a new editor in chief and getting a bunch of new workers in different positions,” said Jaedyn Young, arts and entertainment editor. “I think our biggest focus right now is dealing with what we have and dealing with the print issue later.’’
Available funds should last about two years. For the paper to survive, fundraising has to be a priority now.
“The Nevada Sagebrush is the oldest university institution, besides the school itself, including the Mackay School of Mines,” said Nevada Sagebrush alumni and Pulitzer Prize winner Warren Lerude. The paper began as an unofficial campus publication in 1893 after the administration denied a student’s request to start a university publication. It was originally named The Student Record. Its writers were anonymous in the first two issues.
In the century and a quarter that followed, Sagebrush alumni included five Pulitzer Prize winners, 17 Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame inductees and four Rhodes Scholars. The paper also earned many awards, including the Pacemaker award in 2007-08, 2008-09, 2011-12 and 2014-15.
Donations to the Nevada Sagebrush may be made online.
NOTE: This story was updated on June 24.