By IKE FREDREGILL
The University of Wyoming student newspaper, the Branding Iron, got off to a slow start this semester, publishing about 14 issues without a single student byline.
Instead, the newspaper was published up to four times a week, starting Aug. 30, filled with news releases from the UW media relations department, UW athletics department and advertisements.
Since Aug. 30, the Branding Iron printed approximately 17 issues, which contained about 101 stories. Roughly 11 stories were written by students, and student bylines didn’t start appearing until Wednesday.
UW Student Publications Supervisor Cary Berry-Smith attributed the lack of student-written content to a recent move from the Wyoming Union to the Beta House.
The move began in July, Berry-Smith said, which entailed “packing all of the equipment and all the documentation and all the computers and moving data ports and telephones.”
In a room crammed with couches, desks and miscellaneous office equipment, members of the Branding Iron staff gathered with Berry-Smith at a large wooden table to talk about getting the publication up and running.
“Because of the ebbs and flows of a student paper … there are downtimes as far as our staff and our ability to produce content,” UW graduate assistant and former Branding Iron editor Thomas Garvie said. “We’ve always had that relationship with UW communications that they would allow us to use their press releases and use their content to fill the paper.”
Branding Iron Editor-in-Chief Taylor Hannon said the move hampered the staff’s ability to hire writers, photographers and editors until recently.
“When we moved into this building, there were still people occupying spaces that we were moving into,” Berry-Smith said. “We still are getting into the space we’ll be using this semester.”
Berry-Smith said the decision to continue printing the paper without student-created content fell to the student editors.
“Students control the content of the paper,” she said. “We don’t dictate what goes into the paper.”
The Branding Iron staff varies from semester to semester, but is typically 40-100 students, Berry-Smith said. As the staff is still in the process of being hired, she said she didn’t have numbers available for this semester yet.
Berry-Smith said the newspaper also employs a full-time office associate, full-time sales manager, part-time office assistant and temporary media coach, who provides advice about online content, broadcasting and video production.
While the student media outlet is not a part of UW’s Communication and Journalism Department, she said the Branding Iron does provide internships for students in the program.
“We may have eight (interns a semester), but I limit the number of interns because I want to spend time with them,” Berry-Smith said. “I have one (this semester), but I’m not sure if Robin (Lyons, the Branding Iron new media coach) or Barbara (Thorpe, the Branding Iron sales manager) may have more.”
UW Communication and Journalism Department Head Cindy Price Schultz said she runs the internship program.
“I think an experience such as the Branding Iron is an excellent opportunity for the students,” Schultz said. “I just had a speaker in my last class, a former student of mine who is the public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, tell my students, ‘The tools you use will change, but writing will always be important.’”
Schultz said delays weren’t uncommon around the university since the Legislature started cutting funding.
“At this point, (the Branding Iron’s delayed hiring is) probably not a problem for internships,” she said. “But if it continues, it could become one.”
Although keeping the paper in the public view contributed to the decision to print the Branding Iron without student-created content, Garvie said advertising was also a factor.
“Barbara (Thorpe) is our head of advertising … she is very, very good at helping us to know when we are toeing a line as far as advertising,” he said. “We definitely try to keep that in mind when we pick those (media relations) stories.”
Despite advertising’s role in the decision, Berry-Smith said advertisers were not notified their ads would be running in a student newspaper devoid of student-created content.
While Garvie said the editorial staff wasn’t excited to print the Branding Iron without original content, Hannon said it was also an opportunity to redesign the paper’s layout.
“I got to work with the graphic design team here and produce something I’m extremely proud of,” she said. “We have ran the same heading for the past three years I have been here, and with being the editor, I kind of wanted to do something to show for it.”
Berry-Smith said the move and delayed hiring process could have contributed to this semester’s lack of internships, but the intern she hired would still receive the hours needed for full credit.
Instead of being included in the communication and journalism department, the student publications supervisor reports to the dean of student affairs.
“I don’t think it’s unusual for a program to experience a delay of service at the beginning of the semester,” said UW Vice President for Student Affairs Sean Blackburn, who was recently promoted from dean of student affairs.
However, he said he was unaware of any other student programs to experience a five-week-long delay.
Blackburn said moving Branding Iron was one result of a student affairs study conducted in 2015.
“The new space, once fully renovated, will be an upgrade,” he said. “They will be right down the hall from ASUW (and) Greek life. They’ll be right on the same floor as all these other programs, so they won’t be isolated on the third floor anymore.”
Moving forward in the semester, Berry-Smith said the Branding Iron staff planned to utilize the Beta House to the best of their ability and fill the remaining publications solely with student-generated content.
“This space is a challenge … we’re separated (across three floors),” she said. “We went from moving in almost on top of people still working here … to this space being used as storage for a good portion of our time here and then finally last week, getting the space (for the writing staff) downstairs.”
As challenging as the move has been, Berry-Smith said moving back into the Union next summer could benefit the program.
“New space is always energizing,” Berry-Smith said. “Moving into the Union long-term will give us hopefully a state-of-the-art studio that we’ll hopefully be able to do audio and video recording in without the challenges we had on the third floor of the Union. There’s a lot of potential with new space.”