Fund created to help sustain the Kansan

It’s been 30 years since Rob Karwath (BSJ ’86) was editor of the University Daily Kansan, but he says not a day goes by that he doesn’t use all of the skills he learned working at the student newspaper at the J-School.

“The older I’ve gotten the more valuable I’ve understood my time at KU to have been. I always knew it was valuable; I really know its value now,” said Karwath, who now owns his own media/communications company, North Coast Communications, in Duluth, Minnesota.

The value of that education is why Karwath is leading a fundraising effort designed to preserve the Kansan so that journalism students at KU always have the same opportunities that he and scores of other J-School alumni had.

Similar plans have been talked about before, but the idea gained significant steam last year after the Kansan found itself in a funding disagreement with the Student Senate. The situation was familiar: Over the years, many former Kansan editors recall having grappled with a Student Senate threatening to or actually cutting the level of student fees that helped sustain the Kansan.

Karwath recalled the same struggle during his Kansan tenure, and he said it always felt “weird” that Kansan staffers had to approach the same entity they were reporting on for funding. Student journalists shouldn’t have to worry about decisions on news coverage affecting their funding, he said.

“What we needed to do probably for awhile,” Karwath said, “is to find a funding mechanism that extricated the Kansan from that awkward position.”

In a similar situation last year, Kansan editors decided to file a lawsuit, and as a result, after the spring semester of 2019, the Kansan will no longer seek funding from the Student Senate.

“If there is good news that came from this, and there is, it’s that this has rallied us to band together to find a solution, and I wanted to be part of that solution,” Karwath said.

The solution that Karwath worked on with J-School Dean Ann Brill, other alumni and student members of a steering committee, and KU Endowment was to start a fund called the Kansan Editors’ Endowed Partnership (KEEP). The goal is to raise $100,000, which would provide funds annually to the Kansan and endow the salary for the Kansan’s student editor. A similar fund has been in place for the Kansan’s business manager for the last two years.

In November, the first stage of the funding appeal was launched by sending letters to former Kansan editors asking them to support KEEP. Karwath said he was encouraged by the initial response, and the campaign has allowed him to meet many accomplished former editors from various eras, and they all echo a common experience: There is no substitute for the professional experience that each of them learned running the Kansan.

“Those of us who have been through it and learned that way want other students to continue to learn that way,” Karwath said. “The benefit of the Kansan is that the students run it. They really do run it. It’s not like the newspapers of some other schools where yeah, you get a reporter and maybe a copy editor but you don’t really, truly make the decisions that result in the service to the community you provide, the report that you provide every day.”

The second stage of funding will be reaching out to all former Kansan staffers, and Karwath says this era of “fake news” illustrates how important it is for students to learn integrity in journalism on the job in college.

“I’m not sure I truly appreciated all the lessons I learned in that semester," Karwath said, "until I became an editor and was running my own newspaper and some of the same things that I had a chance to do as a student – as a learning journalist – I was doing for real but I’d had those experiences 20-30 years ago.”

—Julie Adam