Down but not out, scrappy student media will survive somehow

The tribe has spoken. There will be no Concert Board fee increase or media fee restructuring in the fall semester.

During November’s USUAA elections, 242 students supported the Media Board’s effort to change the way fees are collected for The Northern Light and KRUA 88.1 FM, but 313 voted against the proposed referendum. So, the status quo stands.

To be honest, I understand why full-time students would be unenthusiastic about paying $10 more each semester for their beloved college radio and newspaper and $4 more for Concert Board events. With tuition costs and gas prices swelling, people are pooped of paying more. Going into the polling booth, even I was unsure whether the Concert Board deserves more of my money. In the end, I voted in favor of the fee increase because I decided it is best for the university’s present and future students. Impressive names and quality Concert Board shows will make students proud to attend UAA, just like a strong student media creates a sense of community and unity on campus.

When I accepted the job as editor in chief last spring, no one told me I’d be responsible for running a campaign to convince students to change the way fees are collected for on-campus media. Nine months ago, the previous editor in chief was debating which color to paint the office’s walls and picking out $25,000 worth of furniture. Now we’re debating which positions we can do without and picking out ways to save our operation.

So, what happened?

During the summer, Student Activities informed the Media Board that it would no longer pay the salary and benefits of the administration assistant who handles the paperwork for student media. The change, long overdue, makes student media truly independent from the administration, so we’re free monitor those in power more effectively. The Northern Light and KRUA redirected more than $40,000 that we planned to spend elsewhere on the administrative assistant’s salary. And that action has caused problems.

I told my staff that the referendum’s failure doesn’t reflect students’ opinion of the newspaper. You like us, you show it and we know it. We know because the positive feedback we get from students and the community, the 5,000 papers that disappear from our stands every week, and the comments we collected for this issue’s Seawolf Snapshot (see above) tell us. We’re tickled every time we see students reading our paper in the halls, and we feel vindicated when our product inspires someone to write a letter to the editor, post feedback online or get involved.

- Advertisement -

The referendum’s failure does reflect the fact that students don’t come to UAA because they care about this school. They come here to receive a bargain-basement education, and when the extracurricular programs offered at this school, even the programs they value, start chomping at their checkbook, they compromise whatever pride they do feel for UAA for a couple extra bucks in their pocket.

Sure, I’m bummed about the election results. It means The Northern Light will be going on a diet. I estimate we’ll need to purge $60,000 of expenses _” more than a quarter of our $200,000 yearly budget. There’ll probably be personnel cuts; maybe we’ll even cease all activity this summer and just publish during the academic year. All the major goals we’ve been building toward _” to publish more than once a week, grow our staff to adequately tackle our workload, and increase circulation _” will have to wait. We’ll have to do without technology upgrades and office retrofits.

But I’m not discouraged. We’re a dedicated and scrappy bunch, so we’ll adapt by tightening the belt and beefing up advertising sales. Get used to seeing those annoying inserts that fall out of the paper when you pick it up; they’re a great source of revenue.

In the spring, the Media Board may well put a referendum forward that helps balance The Northern Light and KRUA’s budgets. It’s inevitable that fees go up sooner or later because our costs go up. The Northern Light is working to offset student fees with advertising sales, while KRUA is developing an underwriting program. With time, we think we could significantly reduce the media fee altogether, once we strengthen alternative sources of revenue. But it takes money to make money; that’s why the media fee restructure is necessary.

For complete election results, see the Election Board’s ad on page 15. To post feedback online, visit our Web site, www.thenorthernlight.org.