OpEd: Nonprofit financing only way out for newspapers (March 31, 2014)

By BOB MENTZINGER

As the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants, as Thomas Jefferson said — so, too, must there be a time for refreshing leadership in the Fourth Estate that guards our democracy.

In my 18 months as editor of The Times Record, I discovered a passion for community I’d not experienced at any newspaper I’d staffed or led in the past 25 years. The Mid-coast is a dynamic place, requiring a dynamic recording of news and events. It also requires a news organization to be responsive to community, and fiscally responsible enough to serve its mission.

As recently as 9/11, Americans rushed to pay 50 cents for a paper, considering it the most trusted, lowest-cost place to obtain news and intelligent discussion of context. Since then, Twitter now directs you to hundreds of stories on a topic, for free, with video, links and flash forums for instant discussion. An interactive newsstand in your pocket. It’s irresistible.

Maine’s older readership has been less demanding of digital, but even here, the market is speaking — loudly.

At The Times Record, print circulation dropped more than 10 percent in the past decade — damping circulation revenue and the ability to raise ad rates. During my tenure, page count was cut by a quarter, page size by 10 percent, and the ratio of news to ads tilted from 55-45 to 45-55. In some competitive U.S. markets, printed distribution has gone from seven days to three — or, as in Denver and Seattle, none at all.

Most papers — including this one — still get the majority of their revenue from print. That’s why you saw the price of your daily Times Record increase 33 percent, and your weekend paper 50 percent, in the past nine months, even as the news hole shriveled.

The printed newspaper is very literally disappearing before our eyes. Higher print subscription rates are tacit admission that digital advertising won’t solve the problem. A digital ad fetches 10 cents on the dollar of a monopoly-era print ad, and Google can target advertisers’ potential markets with pinpoint accuracy at even lesser cost.

Meanwhile, digital-only local news outlets are failing, too. Patch, the hyperlocal national news company spawned by AOL, cut 75 percent of its staff this year. Main Street Connect, a heralded online platform for local news, went bankrupt in May 2013. Village Soup, a digital news platform developed right here in Maine, closed in 2012, though its technology survives.

For independent local news to survive, I’ve become convinced we need thousands of readers — “the crowd” — to take over the financing of it. From the one or two big advertisers that used to pay for local journalism, the ones who benefit from it — our citizens — need to be the ones who step up and preserve it.

A nonprofit news organization run by a board of directors from the community would care more about serving its communities with incisive journalism and innovative new platforms than about cutting expenses to make a profit. Successful examples of this are very nearby.

The nonprofit Day of New London (Conn.) has been held in public trust since 1939 and is listed by Columbia Journalism Review as one of the top 100 U.S. newspapers under 100,000 circulation.

The Day Trust devotes its attention to ensuring the newspaper will remain independent and locally-owned, and that profits be distributed to nonprofit organizations within the circulation area or else plowed back into the operation to develop new revenue. And there is plenty of unmined revenue to be tapped, print or digital.

“The crowd” will not pay more for less forever. It will find better options. The ad-supported model is not only dead — its demise, foretold for at least a decade, might actually be the best thing for true community journalism. We will see.

I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss local journalism with you while I was entrusted with The Times Record. It’s a conversation I am sure we’ll continue to have.

Bob Mentzinger is a media consultant who has managed newsrooms in Maine from 2003 to 2014 and was recognized by the Maine Press Association in 2013 as the state’s top editorial writer.

Unity College recognized with Source award

Unity College gained statewide recognition from the Portland Press Herald in 2016 as a leading sustainability organization in Maine, based in part on a nominating petition I authored.

Portland Press Herald says school building infrastructure for sustainability education

NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — Maine’s largest media company has recognized Unity College with a Source award lauding its work creating sustainability capacity in the state.

The Cultivator award — one of eight Source awards given to Maine people and organizations dedicated to sustainability — lauds Unity College as a “business or nonprofit that has been steadily building the infrastructure, community connections, or other resources necessary to make Maine a more sustainable place to live.”

Unity College Chief of Staff John Zavodny accepted the award from The Portland Press Herald on behalf of President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury during a Source Awards ceremony Wednesday at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.

“It was a watershed year for Unity College in 2015,” Khoury said. “But our mission is about building capacity for the future. We’re grateful for the recognition from the people who publish The Press Herald and Source magazine. It will help us fulfill that mission.”

“Unity College has cultivated generation after generation of Maine leaders who have a deep understanding of how their actions are connected to ecosystems, economics, and the broader issues of sustainability, and who are putting that knowledge to work for the betterment of their communities,” said Chelsea Conaboy, Features Editor for The Portland Press Herald. “Unity graduates are involved in so much of what’s happening in Maine today, and their work proves that Unity is a national model for sustainable education.”

Khoury, who became Unity’s president in January, said his administration is working to instill sustainability across all parts of the institution, and to enhance the very notion of sustainability,

“We are engaging corporations, nonprofits, political leaders, faculty, donors, students, parents, prospective students and their parents, in this process of reimagining the relationship between higher education and the world it serves,” Khoury said. “The world’s global environmental problems are inclusive. We need inclusive solutions.”

Maine Farmland Trust officials who nominated Unity College recognized the school as an economic driver for the state and region, noting that, from 2013 to 2015, Unity College:

  • recorded three consecutive years of record enrollment and a doubling in the number of applications for admission;
  • saw a 35% increase in its annual operating budget,
  • benefited from a 300% increase in annual fund giving,
  • amid a difficult investing environment, realized a 10.7% increase in annualized return on an endowment that was higher education’s first to divest from fossil fuels,
  • added two $4.4 million fossil fuel-free residence halls (Clifford Hall and Unity 2),
  • expanded and modernized its cafeteria in a project worth $1.1 million, and
  • planned a $6 million expansion for fall 2016 that includes a new academic building and new residence hall built to LEED Silver standards.

Unity College, the fifth-largest employer in Waldo County, annually brings more than $10 million to Maine in tuition and other payments. In recent years, the school added 25 new full-time positions as the overall number of liberal arts schools declined nationally.

The nomination said Unity College provides financial sustainability for its students, with tuition rates 20 percent below the national average. Khoury noted 27 percent of food served in Unity’s dining halls is locally sourced; more than one quarter of the student body hails from Maine; and all the above construction projects employed local contractors.

In growing its infrastructure, Khoury said Unity College is “securing a platform in Maine to achieve a mission that grows more critical every day.”

“We’re a small school with big impact. We want to model and replicate sustainability solutions here in Maine that can be used at the equator, at the polar caps, and in any community globally,” Khoury said. “We have big problems that require big solutions and a big tent.”

“We’re working on scalable models that will allow partners to work with us in inventing the next big solution,” he said.

Source awards began in 2014 to “celebrate the people, nonprofits and businesses connecting Maine to its roots and making the state a healthier place to live.” Published by The Portland Press Herald, Source is the weekly publication and website dedicated to sustainability.

About Unity College

The first institution of higher education in the nation to divest from fossil fuel investments, Unity College is committed to educating the next generation of environmental professionals. Sustainability science lies at the heart of its educational mission, with 16 environmentally focused undergraduate majors. For more information, visit unity.edu.

National accolades

Unity College president named to MaineBiz NEXT List

Dr. Melik Peter Khoury got some great recognition from MaineBiz in response to a nominating petition I authored for him in 2016. It was the second statewide leadership recognition I helped my organization’s top executive achieve in less than three years.

Really enjoy working with Dr. Khoury and the great people at MaineBiz. Here is the statement released by the college:

Statewide magazine says Khoury among those to influence future of Maine’s economy

melik-stage3.jpg

UNITY, Maine — A statewide business magazine has named Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury one of Maine’s 10 most influential leaders.

Khoury was named to MaineBiz’s NEXT list featuring “the 10 people who will influence the future of Maine’s economy.” The juried list “honors business savvy individuals, nominated by their peers and colleagues, who are true entrepreneurs, forward-thinking leaders, and positive motivators for change.”

Khoury was recognized, in part, for his expert financial and organization management success at Unity College, and for leading the charge toward innovating higher education. “It’s going to be a small private that invents the future model for a sustainable higher education experience,” he has said.

“Based on the growth of Unity College, both in its enrollment and the physical growth of its campus, along with steps you’ve taken to free the campus of fossil fuel dependence and other factors, the selection committee was unanimous in its decision,” MaineBiz Editor Peter VanAllen wrote in his award letter to Khoury.

“I am so humbled by this honor,” Khoury said. “Higher education is an important part of the Maine economy, and we believe small, private higher education will continue to flourish here if we leverage our location, focus on student outcomes, and are willing innovate our industry. Now is the time for Vacationland to become Educationland.”

Unity College is widely recognized for a unique curriculum that emphasizes sustainability science, providing students with the capacity to address global changes using an experiential, hands-on approach, small class sizes, and field work as the rule rather than the exception.

“President Khoury recognizes that financial sustainability is integral to environmental sustainability,” said McKay Farm and Research Station Manager Christopher Bond. “And he fosters an environment that recognizes the need for creative solutions to the problems facing higher education today.”

Khoury has put the school on sound financial footing as Unity College has grown amid a challenging national backdrop for small private colleges.

In a July 2015 financial outlook, the investor research service Moody’s found one in 10 public and private colleges in “acute financial distress.” In a separate report, Moody’s predicted closure rates at small colleges and universities will triple in the coming years, with as many as 15 institutions shutting their doors annually by next year.

Unity College welcomed 705 students this 2016-17 academic year, shattering its previous enrollment record of 638 students from Fall 2015 — a 10.5 percent year-over-year increase.

Khoury, who became the college’s 11th president in 2016 after serving as executive vice president and chief academic officer, has led a major multi-year campus buildout that employed hundreds of local contractors and used products and services from dozens of Maine businesses. In the 2015-16 academic year alone, Unity College invested over $9 million in local vendors.

Projects over the last three years have included two $4.4 million fossil-fuel-free residence halls that opened in 2013 and 2014; a $1.1 million cafeteria expansion, completed in 2014; and, this, year, renovations to an academic wing of the Student Activities Center, construction of a new outdoor deck and dining area, and the repurposing of two signature energy-efficient buildings into classroom and student life space. A new $6 million expansion — to be unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday — saw construction of an academic building with classrooms and student success center, plus another energy-efficient new residence hall for first-year students.

Taken together, and with other physical plant improvements, more than $20 million has been invested in student-facing campus improvements since 2012.

Khoury’s investment in growth has brought new cash to Maine. Out-of-state Unity College students paid $10.1 million in tuition, fees, room and board in 2013-14, $10.6 million in 2014-15, and $13.1 million in 2015-16, and are projected to spend more than $13.2 million this academic year. That’s approximately $47 million brought to Maine from out of state in the last four years.

Additionally, highly educated faculty and staff are excited to work at Unity College and are drawn to Maine from outside the state, with 19 faculty and staff having moved to Maine to accept well-paying positions at the college since 2011. The new hires — many of them PhD-educated faculty — came from Florida, Iowa, New York, Louisiana, Oregon, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kansas, Indiana, and Montana; and from Australia.

“President Khoury has demonstrated a real command of the metrics of institutional financial health,” Professor of Sustainable Agriculture Douglas Fox said. “Knowing that we have a strong, capable leader who is providing us with sound parameters within which to operate gives us faculty the freedom to focus on student learning, which is our institutional mission.”

In 2012 Unity College became the first U.S. college to divest its portfolio of fossil fuels. From that year forward, it’s posted a positive return on its endowment that exceeded expectations. In 2015-16, the school also posted a 300 percent increase in annual fund giving, led by Khoury.

Khoury says: “I firmly believe that the current higher education model is unsustainable. I also believe that the innovation needed to create the new model will be written by small, private liberal arts colleges.

“I expect Unity College to be that college. Unity College has what every school wants: a relevant and distinct mission, a creative faculty and staff, a loyal alumni base, a state unmatched for  environmental diversity, and a disciplined board of trustees. With that platform, we will deliver on the promise of America’s Environmental College. That’s good for our students, for Unity College, and for the state of Maine.”

Khoury’s inclusion on the prestigious NEXT list will appear in the Oct. 3 print editions of MaineBiz.

About Unity College

The first institution of higher education in the nation to divest from fossil fuel investments, Unity College is committed to educating the next generation of environmental professionals. Sustainability science lies at the heart of its educational mission, with 16 environmentally focused undergraduate majors and an M.S. in Professional Science degree offered online. For more information, visit unity.edu.

Unity College tops in U.S. for financial sustainability

Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education lauds Maine college

UNITY, Maine — Unity College is the top U.S. college for sustainability in the area of investment and finance and rates third in energy, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

The AASHE 2016 Sustainable Campus Index recognizes top-performing colleges and universities overall and in 17 distinct aspects of sustainability, measured by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). The Index also highlights innovative and high-impact initiatives from institutions that submitted STARS reports in the year prior to July 1.

“Sustainability can be a bit of a buzzword these days, but Unity College and AASHE are united in a vital mission: to integrate sustainability in every aspect of higher education — from operational, to academics, to financial — in order to ensure future generations have the same or greater opportunities as we did,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “We are proud of our STARS rating. This independent review demonstrates that Unity College is in it for our students, and our planet, over the long haul.

“Sustainability is not an add-on at Unity College,” Khoury said. “It’s what we do. Our mission is to ensure the sustainability of this planet. At Unity College, we act with a great sense of urgency. We strive to think, work, and live sustainably.”

Unity College Chief Sustainability Officer Jennifer deHart said Unity College, a longtime AASHE member, recently reaffirmed its membership by attending its annual conference, committing to attend training sessions, and constantly striving to implement best campus practices.

“This recognition is still more proof that Unity College understands the importance of developing institutional sustainability strategies,” deHart said. “That’s why almost all of our senior leaders — the president, chief academic officer, chief information officer, chief of staff, chief sustainability officer, chief student success officer, chief fundraising officer, and chief budget officer — have attended the AASHE Annual Conference in the past two years,” deHart said.

Founded in 2006 as more and more higher education institutions sought greater sustainability support, AASHE offers a range of resources, including its influential Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) rating system.

STARS provides a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities — from community colleges to research universities, and from institutions just starting their sustainability programs to long-time sustainability leaders — to measure their sustainability performance. Some 786 institutions have registered to use the STARS Reporting Tool.

Unity College earned a Gold rating in 2014 and the next submission is due in 2017. Khoury said Unity College is striving to earn a Platinum rating by 2019.

Many of the elements in STARS are used in other important rankings.

For example, based in part on STARS data, Unity College was listed among the Top 10 colleges nationally in two important categories — No. 10 for Food and No. 5 for Academics — on Sierra magazine’s latest list of “Cool Schools.”

“The institutions and initiatives featured in this year’s Sustainable Campus Index showcase the great work that higher education institutions are doing to lead the global sustainability transformation,” AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser said. “Unity College is to be commended for leading the way on finance and investment initiatives that ensure the survival of an important institution of higher education.”

About Unity College

The first institution of higher education in the nation to divest from fossil fuel investments, Unity College is committed to educating the next generation of environmental professionals. Sustainability science lies at the heart of its educational mission, with 16 environmentally focused undergraduate majors and an M.S. of Professional Science degree offered online. For more information, visit unity.edu.

About AASHE

AASHE empowers higher education administrators, faculty, staff and students to be effective change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation. AASHE enables members to translate information into action by offering essential resources and professional development to a diverse, engaged community of sustainability leaders. The group works with and for higher education to ensure the world’s future leaders are motivated and equipped to solve sustainability challenges. For more information, visit www.aashe.org.

Yes on 1: Legalize prosperity

To the Editor:

With patients reporting positive reactions from the medical use of marijuana — from veterans with PTSD to cancer patients who cannot eat — Mainers should allow patients and doctors to be able to determine the best treatments and have ready access to marijuana, without fear of committing a crime.

Many Mainers can’t access medical marijuana. They either do not have one of the few qualifying conditions or cannot afford a $300-per-year doctor’s recommendation.

If marijuana were legal for private, adult use, we could control and regulate it, rather than allowing criminals to control its distribution and quality. We could create a new industry in a state that does not have a vibrant economy, with a supply chain of  garden stores, merchants, growers, testing labs, warehouses, delivery services, and more. We know we can do it, because Maine’s has been called one of the nation’s best run dispensary systems in the country.

Let’s legalize prosperity in Maine by voting Yes on 1 in November.

Yes on 1: Sensible drug policy

To the Editor:

Have you ever heard of anyone overdosing on marijuana?

How about traffic deaths from it?

Murder or robbery? Assault? Domestic violence?

The truth is, marijuana is a fairly benign drug that offers a path forward to quell the opioid epidemic in two ways: by freeing up time and money for police to focus on violent drug crimes by out-of-state offenders, and by offering addicts a new treatment option that has been deemed effective in diverting hard drug users from substances from out of state that cause social disruption, domestic violence, crime, addiction, and human misery.

Sensible drug policy requires us to vote Yes on 1. Legalizing marijuana is sensible policy.

Yes on 1: Listen to the police

To the Editor:
With overcrowded jails keeping dangerous people on the streets, and police fighting battles with much greater public safety impact, it would be a refreshing change to divert police resources away from nonviolent offenders and toward the serious, violent, and unsolved crimes like assault, car theft, robbery, and domestic assault.

The truth is valuable law enforcement resources are being wasted on locking up people for small marijuana crimes. In other states that have approved legalization measures, arrests for simple marijuana offenses are down nearly 90%, saving a huge amount of police and court time and substantial taxpayer money.

Thanks to a well-run, well-regulated medical system that is graded one of the best in the nation, we know Maine is capable of running legalized marijuana businesses that create jobs, leverage our world-class space in specialty and small-scale agriculture, and shuts down the black market that keep the drugs in the hands of minors and others who shouldn’t possess it.

Marijuana is widely available in Maine, always has been, and will eventually be legalized. The current system isn’t working. Question 1 offers a chance for adults who choose to use marijuana – or who need it for medical purposes – to get it in a safe, regulated environment.

In November, vote Yes on 1.

Yes on 1: Government doesn’t ban dangerous things. It regulates and taxes them.

To the Editor:

Government generally doesn’t ban dangerous things. It regulates and taxes them.

So why would Mainers want to continue the ludicrous ban on adult possession of marijuana when alcohol, tobacco and firearms kill thousands of people annually?

Has there ever been a single recorded death from a marijuana overdose?

No? Then why is marijuana illegal while the other products known to cause harm are kept legal and taxed?

There’s no logical reason, especially when Maine needs the money and has been growing, selling and distributing marijuana for centuries. Also, Maine already taxes and regulates many other products deemed dangerous, including alcohol, tobacco and firearms.

A study by the conservative Tax Foundation says Maine could get as much as $16 million per year from taxes on marijuana, perhaps much more.

Mainers want to see more money poured into drug enforcement to target the drugs that actually harm and kill people. We can do so responsibly, within existing regulatory frameworks, in the best traditions of Maine, by voting Yes on 1 in November.