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Howard’s Student Newspaper Halts Publication

Howard University administrators have halted publication of the university’s student newspaper, the editor in chief and the university spokesman told Black College Wire last week.

Drew Costley, a Howard senior and The Hilltop’s top editor for the 2007-2008 academic year, said the action was taken because of more than $48,000 in outstanding printing costs. He also said $20,000 is missing from the paper’s account.

Costley said administrators “went against protocol” and independently decided to stop publication of The Hilltop indefinitely after it was revealed that the newspaper owed its printer, The Washington Times, $48,000 for printing during the fall semester. The Hilltop is the nation’s only HBCU student newspaper that is published daily.

Ron Harris, director of the office of communications, confirmed that the publication of The Hilltop has been suspended. “The university administration is not happy that school newspaper is not being published. They’re having conversations right now to discuss how did this happen, are there systemic problems, and what do we need to change to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Harris also said discussions were underway to determine if the printing bills could be paid.

Costley, a former Black College Wire intern, said of the $48,000 owed to the printer, $20,000 is at least 120 days outstanding and the remaining $28,000 is between 60 and 90 days outstanding. He said $20,000 was taken out of the newspaper’s account in January, and has not been replaced or accounted for, even after an audit. “I’m not sure who, I’m not sure what, and I’m not sure why,” he said, referring to the missing funds.

The Hilltop’s business manager, Ashley D. Marshall, sent out a letter to the paper’s advertisers notifying them that the paper would not be publishing for the rest of the school year. “We are looking forward to a more prosperous publication year beginning in the fall, and hope to continue business with you then. We extend our apologies for any inconvenience this notice may serve you, but we will be in touch if publication resumes any time before the publication year ends,” the letter said.

That letter was a surprise to Costley, who said he had sent out an email telling his staff to continue working just before he heard about Marshall’s letter.

The letter cited “the lack of advertising and extensive difficulty in receiving collections from some of our partners and clients” as financial precursors to the paper halting publication.

Marshall could not be reached for comment.

Costley said in December 2007, he found out that the business staff had not sent out invoices to advertising clients for a month and a half, causing $40,000 to $45,000 in lost revenue.

He said tear sheets to show clients their ads were actually run, also had not gone out, so clients refused to pay. Costley said by the time he found this out, the assistant business manager had been fired for an unrelated reason. Marshall was not fired over the incident.

It appears that miscommunication and alleged mismanagement are at the heart of The Hilltop’s financial woes. Costley said he could have exercised more oversight, but that the traditional dynamic of The Hilltop has been for the editor in chief to handle the editorial side and let the business manager run the business office.

Costley said an administrator told him the university was pulling together money to cover the printing bill and had scheduled a meeting yesterday to discuss whether the newspaper will resume publishing.

The Hilltop’s managing editor, senior Josh Thomas, said it’s important for the paper, as the first and only HBCU daily, to continue publishing and he hopes the situation will be resolved. He said it would be “erasing history” if publication stops.

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