Tuesday, March 26

Minding the media: Asking for help

Student newspapers occupy a precarious position in the university. (Visualhunt.com)

Student newspapers occupy a precarious position in the university. (Visualhunt.com)

Editor’s note: The USAC Election Board at UCLA wants us to #USACMakeItCount. Students can vote in the undergraduate student government election on MyUCLA until 3 p.m. Friday. The election board will announce results at 9 p.m. Friday in Meyerhoff Park.

I hate asking for help.

Most people do – it’s uncomfortable, vulnerable and a little embarrassing.

But earlier this year, UC Davis’ student newspaper, the California Aggie, asked Davis students for their help. UC Santa Barbara’s newspaper, the Daily Nexus, asked UCSB students for their help, and UC Berkeley’s newspaper, the Daily Californian, asked Cal students for theirs.

So here I am, summoning the courage to ask you for yours.

Last week, I wrote about how journalism as an industry is changing. Media fragmentation and increased online and mobile readership disincentivizes advertisers to work with print newspapers. Declining print ad revenue is hurting a lot of newspapers, but it’s hurting student-run university papers the most.

In April, the Daily Bruin launched a campaign for a $3 quarterly student fee increase that would fund UCLA Student Media, a department home to the Daily Bruin, BruinLife yearbook, UCLA Radio and six cultural newsmagazines if passed. Undergraduate students can vote to pass the referendum during the spring election.

In the past, we’ve crowdsourced through a successful $14,636 UCLA Spark campaign and reduced our daily circulation from about 9,000 to about 7,000, but the revenue hasn’t been sustainable. Two weeks ago, Student Media Director Arvli Ward resigned after 21 years with the department, so Student Media could put his annual salary toward its editorial expenses. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.

It’s hard to admit, but we still need help.

Asking for student support

People say beggars can’t be choosers, but we have to be both. The paper must maintain its financial independence from UCLA administrators and student governments so staffers can remain critical of administrators and those in power. But the funding still must be sufficient and sustainable – so we turned to students for help, as three other UC newspapers did this year.

In March, the undergraduate student government voted to add the Daily Bruin and Bruinwalk.com Referendum to the spring ballot. Before council members voted, Academic Affairs commissioner Trent Kajikawa asked whether adding the referendum to the ballot constituted a conflict of interest. I told him The Bruin will not change its coverage of council members, regardless of whether they vote to add the referendum to the ballot.

Since then, The Bruin has continued its news coverage leading up to the election as it would any other year. We reported on every referendum added to the ballot, attended candidate events and profiled both students running for the presidential seat.

The Bruin’s editorial board decided to evaluate USAC council members and endorse new candidates as it does every year, but decided against endorsing referenda to avoid perceived bias while staying in line with its role of providing the student body with an informed voice.

Battling accusations of bias

On Monday morning, voting began. Hours before the first students cast their votes, The Bruin published a story about sanctions the USAC Election Board issued against Bruins United, a student-run political group, and the Social Justice Referendum, which aims to support retention and outreach programs on campus.

Referendum representatives then accused The Bruin of collaborating with the USAC Election Board and displaying bias with potential ulterior motives. They alleged Bruin reporters did not contact representatives until after publishing the article, and the election board notified The Bruin of the sanction before contacting the referendum’s representatives.

“(The Daily Bruin) cannot be expected to … provide voters information to make an educated decision during these USAC elections,” representatives wrote in a press release on Facebook.

Yes, we can. Records from our editing and publishing platforms show the post was published after representatives were contacted, and email records prove the election board forwarded documents to The Bruin after informing referendum representatives of the violation.

On the defense

Defending my job as The Bruin’s news editor has been exhausting.

The Bruin continues to report on wrongdoings during the election period, as it does every year. Recusing ourselves from any coverage of candidates or referenda would be letting our involvement this year get in the way of informing the student body.

I’m convinced student newspapers are inherently a little self-destructive. We criticize those who could potentially fund us, and seem to enjoy doing so much we don’t even ask for their help. We insist on making ourselves available to students on newsstands throughout campus during a time when big-time newspapers are fighting to stay in print.

I get it – funding student media is difficult. But we cannot be expected to compromise our values to save a organization that would mean nothing without them.

Regardless, I’m confident students who understand the value of an independent campus news source will take to the polls with their support, just as students at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara have over the past two months. All three referenda passed with majority votes.

For the first time in a long time, UCLA Student Media has the guts to ask for students’ help. Now I’m asking you for yours.

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