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Saving Student Media: Students should be able to choose whether or not to financially support campus newspapers

By mary clark

April 17, 2012 11:21 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this column contained an error. Funds from PLEDGE comprised 9 percent of the Daily Bruin’s operating budget last year.

When you picked up this newspaper, you didn’t pay a dime. When you visit the Daily Bruin website, all of our content is free ­”“ that is, if you are not a UCLA student.

If you are a student, this newspaper is not free.

In 2009, the student body narrowly passed the divisive PLEDGE referendum, which mandated that the UCLA Communications Board (which publishes the Daily Bruin) receive $3 from each student per quarter.

Three dollars may not be much per person, but funds from PLEDGE comprised 9 percent of the Daily Bruin’s operating budget last year.

But is it the student body’s responsibility to support their independent student newspaper? The question is one that has to be answered by the students for whom the newspaper exists.

A recent proposal by the Daily Californian, the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative, has raised that question at UC Berkeley, but a heavy-handed executive order issued earlier this week during elections nullified student votes and declared the initiative void.

Although the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative was voted on during Berkeley’s last Associated Students of the University of California elections, ASUC President Vishalli Loomba issued an executive order invalidating the initiative, presenting the argument that the Daily Cal is independent of the university and therefore should not receive student funding.

Many college newspapers, the Daily Bruin included, are independent of the university administration and are free to determine their own content, but are still tied to the university through the use of student funding.

Despite many Berkeley students’ concerns that the Daily Cal is receiving preferential treatment over other student media outlets at UC Berkeley, the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative should be allowed to come to a vote and the executive order should be overturned. The Daily Cal’s readers should be able to decide whether or not they want to help support the paper financially.

If passed, the initiative would have raised a $2 per-semester fee for each student directly for the Daily Cal, helping cover its increasing deficit. The fee increase would have lasted only five years.

Some students at Berkeley are calling this initiative a bailout and a temporary solution, stating that if the newspaper is failing it should be left to do so.

It’s probably not hard to guess that I believe a student newspaper and its vitality should be valued by the student body, enough that a $2 fee increase (a small price to pay for a daily newspaper) should be worth it for a number of reasons.

First, student newspapers exist for students, not only to be informative, but also to serve as a forum for organized discussion of pertinent campus issues. Also, at schools like UCLA without journalism programs, the newspaper remains the best way for students interested in journalism to gain experience.

But regardless of the fact that I, and probably everyone else who writes or works for a student newspaper, believe in the inherent importance of student journalism, newspapers exist to inform and serve the student body, and they should have a say on how their money is spent.

Tomer Ovadia, editor in chief of the Daily Cal, said they are still working to garner student support for the initiative, and the constitutionality of the executive order is currently under examination.

But the Daily Cal is not alone in its budgetary woes. The Daily Campus, the student newspaper at the University of Connecticut, also proposed an initiative similar to PLEDGE and V.O.I.C.E to provide vital funding to sustain the paper, but students rejected the proposed initiative in a popular vote.

Melanie Deziel, editor in chief of the Daily Campus, said the newspaper would continue to push for student funding, although the Daily Campus too is independent of the university.

Although the outcome was not ideal, at least the university granted students the opportunity to determine how much money they are willing to spend to keep a student newspaper afloat.

In the end, an independent newspaper should be just that ““ independent of any outside support or governance.

But, in situations like those faced by the Daily Bruin in 2009 and the Daily Cal and the Daily Campus today, students, for whom student newspapers exist, should have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to aid the newspapers financially.

Email Clark at [email protected]. Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBOpinion.

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