As a generation of students raised on the Internet takes hold, UC Davis’ campus newspaper faces the real possibility of going extinct before its 100th anniversary next year.If people valued their product they'd pay for it. What does it say about UC Davis and its student paper that they have to compel students to subsidize this paper?
The California Aggie has already gone from a daily to a weekly, eliminated staff positions and imposed across-the-board pay cuts. Now, in a desperate measure, it wants undergraduate students to finance its operation through an annual $9.30 campus fee.
“In a school that doesn’t have a journalism program, the Aggie is a learning laboratory for future photographers, writers and editors,” Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Orpina said Friday at her office in Lower Freeborn Hall.
Miles Thomas, Senate president pro tempore at UC Davis, backed the student fees and described the Aggie as “one of the most critical institutions on campus.”How many people recorded the pepper-spraying incident with their phones, and published the videos to YouTube, before the Aggie ever got an issue to press?
“They keep student government accountable and the administration of UC Davis accountable. Look at the pepper-spray incident,” Thomas said, referring to the 2011 event that gained international notoriety after campus police pepper-sprayed demonstrators protesting tuition hikes on the university quad.
“A fee referendum is the only way the Aggie could keep its integrity as a newspaper,” Thomas said.
The precipitous decline of the publication began seven years ago as the Aggie struggled to cope with the digital age. Orpina and past editors said financial mismanagement, combined with slumping ad revenue and decreasing readership, forced the paper last year to slash print publication from four days a week to one day.It's obvious that the Aggie isn't valued, at least as a printed paper. How much did the paper cost before this request for subsidizing? Or was it printed and distributed and students could pick one up for free?
The paper has tried to cut costs in other ways. Writers and photographers are not paid for their work. Managers receive a stipend averaging $50 a week.
Marc Cooper, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California, criticized the proposed student fee, suggesting it was primarily driven by nostalgia.
“When you’re dying at this rate, it’s like asking people to donate to keep you on life support,” Cooper said. “If you can’t sell enough ads to sustain one or two days of publication, what kind of force are you in the community?”
In the face of economic realities and the changing habits of student consumers, the Aggie has struggled to find its place on campus. Cooper said the money would be better spent on retooling the Aggie’s website, which could be maintained for very little compared with the cost of printing papers.It seems to me that Professor Cooper has the right idea. And if even that doesn't work, then Davis doesn't need a student-run paper. Trying to require all students to subsidize the pastime of a few students who call themselves a newspaper staff but can't support their own hobby? What an admission of failure!
“There’s an inherent danger of falling behind the ecology of news,” Cooper said.
They are, however, learning the lessons of liberals well.
Update, 3/18/14: Forgot to link the outcome here, so here's the outcome!