Recent attempts by the Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC) to bring the Bowdoin Orient to its knees have put this newspaper at a crossroads. It could fight back; it has leverage against the purse-keepers, and might win in a showdown.

Or, the Orient could treat this crisis as an opportunity to undergo a drastic but inevitable metamorphosis.

Let me explain. Last week's editorial, which laid out the newspaper's troubles at the hands of an exceptionally stingy SAFC, glossed over an important budgetary detail: the Orient pays its staff. This perennial point of contention between the Orient and the funding committee is hardly marginal. Indeed, it appears to lie at the center of the present conflict.

The Orient began paying weekly stipends to staffers years ago. The editors determined that doing so creates incentives to do good work and inspires a sense of obligation in a perpetually distracted staff. Since then, the Orient has spent roughly $20,000 per year on payroll.

Awkwardly, this is almost exactly the amount it has requested—and until recently, received—from the SAFC. Since the funding committee chafes at the idea of putting student activities money into the pockets of Orient staffers, the editors agree to pay student journalists out of the newspaper's revenue account, which includes money from advertising and subscription sales. The SAFC account has historically paid for printing and mail distribution, plus other costs.

It now appears that the funding committee is trying to strong-arm the Orient into using its revenue account to cover the bulk of printing and distribution costs, making it untenable for the editors to continue paying their staff. The SAFC has suggested that in the future it will fund only the shortfall between the paper's commercial revenue and its total operating budget. Implicitly, this will exclude stipends. The SAFC also seems to think it inappropriate for an organization to save money it earns, so it will make sure the Orient can't do that, either.

But the Orient has leverage. Staff stipends are not a luxury the College grants the newspaper; they are a luxury the newspaper grants itself. The Orient is under no obligation to pursue advertising and subscription revenue. It does so of its own accord so it can do things like save for a rainy day and invest in quality by paying staffers. Why bother busting ass to raise revenue if all that means is the SAFC will hold it against them come budgeting season? What's the point of trying to make money at all?

The Orient could threaten to simply stop selling ads and subscriptions. This would leave the SAFC solely responsible for covering the paper's costs. Staff stipends would surely end, but the amount the funding committee spends on the Orient would more than triple—from $10,000 to around $30,000. The SAFC chair either has not considered the possibility the Orient will refuse to support itself, or is daring the editors to do it.

Then again, nobody wants to play a game of chicken with student activities money, nor with the fate of the Orient. So here's an alternative:

Stop printing the newspaper.

Publish only online. Take the money the SAFC is willing to spend on the Orient and invest in a content management system that all reporters can use easily and access remotely. Enable the system for live-blog talks, meetings, concerts and sporting events. Include hyperlinks to related coverage in the Orient and elsewhere. Aggregate content from other NESCAC and midcoast Maine news sources. Maybe commission an app.

This might sound like snake oil to some. Certainly, these trappings of modern media are means, not ends. The quality of the Orient will always depend on the quality of its reporting and writing. Some will argue that the (sometimes) haphazard editorial process associated with new media might harm quality. Adapting to these new forms would involve plenty of trial and error. And while there are many ways the editors could use social media to encourage serendipitous browsing, there is no guarantee that an online-only Orient will get as many casual readers.

But there would be definite advantages. Time now spent tediously laying out pages could be reinvested in reporting. The Orient could be more responsive; stories that break early in the week could be reported before they go stale. The paper has already taken an important first step this year by creating the Orient Express, a blog that will allow it to push content throughout the week. This is an inspired move, but it does not solve the problems facing the print product.

Also, an Orient focused exclusively on the online medium would provide a less archaic training ground for Bowdoin's aspiring journalists.

Any casual observer of media knows these changes are coming. The chairman of the New York Times Company said last week that his newspaper will eventually stop putting out a print edition. This is a decision many papers, including some college ones, have already had to make. Bowdoin can only remain insulated from this upheaval for so long. SAFC's power play has put the newspaper in crisis; but a crisis, we are often reminded, is a terrible thing to waste.

These debates about money and media at Bowdoin, long confined to back rooms, need to start happening in public. The Orient's editors have started the conversation, and it is time for everyone else to join in. Who knows? Maybe the Orient's readers do not buy into the value proposition of a paid newspaper staff. Maybe they think the funding committee is being shortsighted in attempting to hamstring the Orient's commercial activities. Maybe they are not ready to give up their Friday tradition of leafing through the paper at lunchtime in favor of a more dynamic online product, broader cultural shifts be damned.

One thing is certain: If "the future of the Orient" is indeed at stake, its readership needs to know exactly why. And it needs to insist on being part of whatever choices are made.

Steve Kolowich is a member of the Class of 2008 and a former editor in chief of the Orient.