For the last few months, Dallas County Community College District professors have exchanged a series of angry e-mail messages lambasting The Dallas Morning News for what the professors characterize as a greedy, monopolistic move that they believe is hurting their students.
It seems Dallas' Only Daily has a pretty high opinion of the value of the information it provides--so high, the paper's management thinks electronic access to it should fetch a pretty penny. Until just a few months ago, the Morning News had a contract with UMI, a Michigan-based company that indexed the paper and put it on-line along with several other Texas periodicals, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Austin American-Statesman, San Antonio Express-News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Texas Observer, and Texas Monthly.
UMI in turn sold what they called the Texas Newspaper Bundle to college and public libraries throughout the state. The Dallas County Community College District, for example, paid $15,000 a year to provide its 45,000 students at nine campuses with computer access to all these Texas periodicals. Government and writing professors found the Texas Newspaper Bundle an excellent tool for students writing research papers.
But a few months ago, the professors were chagrined to see all the periodicals except the Morning News suddenly disappear from the DCCCD electronic database. The reason: the Morning News' greed.
Cliff Pierce, director of publisher relations for UMI, says managers at the Morning News thought UMI was "undervaluing their content." They felt they should be getting more money for their data from subscribers and revoked UMI's right to resell the Morning News as part of the Texas Newspaper Bundle.
The Morning News decided to cut out the middleman and sell directly to subscribers for a substantially increased fee. DCCCD was now looking at paying $12,000 a year to provide the Morning News and its archives on line, compared with $15,000 it had been paying for the Morning News plus 10 other Texas newspapers and magazines.
"When UMI lost the right last fall to deliver The Dallas Morning News to our users, we librarians felt like we had been whacked upside the head with a 2-by-4," wrote John Ferguson, reference librarian at Richland College, in an e-mail to a writing professor.
With a total budget of $70,000 for all electronic resources, the DCCCD library couldn't afford to make the Morning News and the Texas Newspaper Bundle available to its students and teachers. They had to make a choice. They picked the Morning News.
But the professors were angry, and that's when the e-mails began to fly.
"Writing students at North Lake College must have current Texas newspapers available in the college library. That our students should be deprived of the primary source of information on events which bear directly on their lives--and, therefore, provide relevant subjects for their writing--is shortsighted at best, detrimental to the entire purpose of their college experience at worst," wrote Dr. Harold A. Knight, adjunct professor of English at North Lake.
"Students who determine to research current topics need to be encouraged in every way possible," Knight continued. "Gathering information on issues such as legislative initiatives, political contests, and civic controversies gives them the tools to form their own opinions. Students also learn to inform others about current issues. This discovery and exchange of ideas is the great hope of education. For students to be thwarted in this work is to undermine the highest goal of teaching--the formation of a responsible citizenry."
Bob Seeley, a North Lake English professor, concurred. "I, personally and professionally, think that we could be much better served by the Texas Newspaper Bundle because the Star-Telegram and the American-Statesmen are better newspapers than the DMN," Seeley wrote. "...The DMN's capitalist ways should not deprive my students who are encouraged to research issues."
Officials at the Morning News refused to comment.
What particularly aggravates the professors is that the Morning News is providing an inferior product for more money. The index to the Texas Newspaper Bundle provides detailed summaries of each article. The Morning News, in contrast, provides just the first paragraph of each story. In order to tell if the article has information you need, you have to go through the cumbersome process of calling up each story and reading it.
"The Morning News index is uneven," complains one North Lake professor. "Using it is very time-consuming and inefficient."
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The DCCCD pays only $4,740 to provide The New York Times database to its students through UMI, and $2,940 for The Wall Street Journal. That the Morning News charges more than twice than the Times further enrages the professors.
"To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know the Morning News, and it's no New York Times," grouses a North Lake Community College English professor.
"I think our students are deprived of certain things," says Paul Dumont, district director of educational services for the community college district. "It limits our resources. We would have preferred staying with the Texas News[paper] Bundle, but it would have meant spending a third of our total budget. We couldn't afford that. I think the Morning News approached this the wrong way. They didn't talk to their customers. They just pulled out of UMI and suddenly it wasn't there."
Says UMI's Pierce: "What publishers don't understand, and my challenge, is that we have to work within our customers' budgets. Of course, they're entitled to charge whatever they think they can get. You would like to think that they have a moral obligation to the community to provide access to your information without pricing it so high they are forced to drop another product. The flip side is, the information has inherent value. I don't know where the line is.