February 23, 2011

College newspapers lose funding

A pair of recently denied funding requests left two college newspapers out of print this month until further notice.

The Bi-College News (Bi-Co News), Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges in Pennsylvania co-opted student newspaper and The Leader of Elmhurst College in Illinois have stopped production until an agreement can be reached between their respective student governments regarding budget requests.

Senior Laurel Lemon, the Treasurer of Bryn Mawr’s Self Governance Association (SGA), told editors at the Bi-College News in a prepared statement that the SGA would only be able to grant 25 percent of the paper’s $13,000 budget for this semester. Lemon downplayed the decision, saying that “there was nothing done by the Bi-Co News to cause this shift, but rather, [… it was] intended to bring about some necessary changes.”

Bryn Mawr’s student government has funded the Bi-Co News since the 1990s, while Haverford has paid for the school’s radio station and filmmaking club. However, both of the clubs that Haverford was expected to fund have since disbanded, while the newspaper’s annual printing costs have increased to nearly $40,000 since the agreement.

Editors of the Bi-Co News said the decision was “by no means ethical” and expressed frustration at the lack of notice they received leading up to the decision. As of this past Tuesday, both sides were still trying to reach an agreement.

Members of Elmhurst’s student paper have faced similar budgeting problems.

Joe Gisondi, President of the Illinois College Press Association’s Board of Directors and Associate Professor of Journalism at Eastern Illinois University, believes that colleges should keep student government and student media separated to avoid such funding disputes.

“Institutions are teaching the wrong lessons if they’re going to continue allowing student government to be in charge of the money for student media,” Gisondi said. “It’s akin to the government in Washington, D.C. distributing money to the papers that cover it.”

Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, agreed, stressing the importance of colleges setting good examples regarding First Amendment rights.

“We’re definitely concerned about colleges using financial austerity as a fig leaf for getting rid of newspapers they never liked in the first place,” LaMonte said. “And honestly, of all of the things that student governments fund, student newspapers are one of the cheapest bang-for-the-buck investments, and one of the few that generate a good bit of their own revenue.“

Could the budget disputes affecting other college papers be a sign of things to come at Knox?

Most Knox officials say probably not.

“It’s conceivable, but I think it’s unlikely,” Knox president Roger Taylor said. “I think one of the joys of student initiative, and having student government being involved with allocating student funds, is that stuff like that sometimes happens, but the Student Life Committee works with the Student Senate on allocating funds, so there are some big kids in the room too.”

Junior and Student Senate Treasurer Gordon Barratt said that funding for student clubs and organizations is not linked to Knox’s endowment, but instead comes from the Student Activity Fee, which all Knox students pay as part of their tuition.

“Even in a doomsday scenario ,if Knox did have several bad years in a row in terms of enrollment, the worst thing that could happen would be if TKS lost some of its funding,” Barratt said. “It certainly wouldn’t be shut down, even in this worst of scenarios.”

LaMonte admitted that while his group, which advocates for student First Amendment rights, receives occasional grievances between student media and student governments, those complaints aren’t common.

“[I think] what the student governments discover is that people on campus really do value the newspaper and would miss it if it were gone,” LaMonte said.

Students on Knox campus agree with LaMonte’s sentiments.

“I think TKS has a real role because it’s a publication about Knox written by students attending Knox, as opposed to other sources written by non-students,” junior Erik Hane said. “It’s an important tool for communication among the student body itself.”

“The TKS, along with other college newspapers nationwide, provides an outlet for students to voice their thoughts that are pertinent to them on campus,” said sophomore Hannah Basil. “It’s too easy to grab sound bites and arrive at false conclusions. School newspapers, like TKS, slow that process and helps develop thinkers and leaders.”

Matt McKinney
Matt McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. His experience with journalism ranges from a year as co-sports editor for TKS to an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he used his Spanish language skills to report a front-page story on changes to federal immigration policy. He has also written for The Galesburg Register-Mail and Knox’s Office of Communications. Matt is the recipient of the 2012 Knox College Kimble Prize for Feature Journalism and two awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including a first place award for sports game coverage. He is currently interning virtually with The Tampa Bay Times and will pursue his master's next year at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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