I'm a huge Jason Robert Brown fan, and I actually ran into a similar situation where I wanted his sheet music to sing at an event. I was willing to pay for a full book just to get one specific song, but I needed it within a day. I could find the sheet music no where online, even from illegal sources. I went to the library as Mr. Brown suggests, but the only copy of this book was in the research section of library. The librarian told me I was not allowed to make copies of this music - only 10% (I forget which law states this). Not of the entire book, but of each song, regardless of my use of the material. Other Jason Robert Brown scores were in the general collection and could be easily copied unsupervised, but this special collection somehow had special fair use rules. So I could not pay for the music nor could I check it out or copy it from the library, so I had to sing something else entirely, exactly what I believe is happening in many situations where content providers simply refuse to make their content easily and cheaply available.
The problem with this ruling (and some previous rulings) is that money is considered the same as speech. So a corporation may not pay for ads, but there is no law preventing them from publicly endorsing candidates or making movies/shows/etc. to promote them. By banning/limiting donations, you are not limiting a person or corporation's ability to speak but only preventing them from spending money which is not a constitutional right.
These companies are focusing on what is turning out to be outdated thinking. The concept of an influential few has been challenged by some persuasive studies by Duncan Watts who shows that it's more important to have lots of people talking about your product or idea - everyone is influential over someone and somehow connected to more influential people.
I take it a step farther recognizing the internet has expanded the definition of influentials, negating the value of a FriendRank - you want as many people talking as possible. With blogs, social networking sites, and user reviews, anybody can be easily connected with lots of people and share information, bookmarks, and products. Someone might not be very social in real life, but the internet helps them be influential.
I think structure can be helpful for learning and often a school sanctioned paper will offer that more than just friends working together. Often school papers have traditions from responsibilities and jobs to editorial calendars, not to mention financial budgets that sometimes students get to help manage. The school can provide the frame for a more resourceful learning environment then students experimenting themselves (which can be valuable on its own) so I think there's benefit to having a school paper, even if it's just online.
Cauz I think is, at a very surface level, embracing a the digital viewpoint that you have suggested the news industry take - view one's self as a news organization, not a newspaper. Britannica has a excellent name value and can use that to move into the a educationally focused enterprise, maybe developing specific materials, like lesson plans and bibliographies, for specific classes using their network of experts. Wikipedia could eventually compete in this area, but with far less name value.
I get into the free/file-sharing arguments with so many people who themselves want to go into entertainment and software and always say how unfair it would be to not get paid for their work. I of course point them to television which has always been free. There is some idea that people in entertainment or software are entitled to money. Even if you work hard, you aren't guaranteed fair compensation. It's not about work hard, it's about working smart.
I have a friend going back to school just to avoid getting deported. No company will sponsor her to stay because of the work it takes - they have to put an ad in the paper for the job proving no American could do the job. But this is taken several steps farther with the limited visas preventing people like in the tech sector who are desperately needed to fill jobs because there aren't enough Americans to do them. It's just another way we loose our competitive edge. Though being a web developer, it's nice to be in such demand, but it also means the majority of any start-up's focus is on recruiting and that's wasted time.