This is Your Cue to Fly the Coop

After being at the beck and call of A.S. Council for the past two years, it’s time for media orgs to fly the coop and stand on their own two feet. Last year, the orgs fell victim to a council that froze their funding despite them having done (mostly) nothing wrong. They were then welcomed back with open arms and rewarded with an exorbitant allowance for their trouble. Now broke, councilmembers have passed new media funding guidelines that turn the student publications out again. These media orgs need to stop putting the existence of their publications in the hands of people who don’t know what InDesign is, and eliminate the uncertainty of relying on the whims of a fickle VP Finance and Resources.

Last Spring Quarter, council a passed a $60,000 media budget for the year. As the dust of the Compton Cookout and the media funding freeze was still settling, VP of Finance and Resources Andrew Ang — who was burned earlier after trying to impose new “guidelines” that smacked of censorship — allocated funds based on that number, liberally gifting some of the higher-end publications as much as $3,400 to last them through Fall Quarter.

At the first sign of budget cuts, the $60,000 was slashed down to $38,000 — a serious problem, considering Ang had already dished out $26,000 for Fall Quarter. Now, new guidelines cap funding for each org at $450 per org per quarter, striking a hard blow for our publications who are used to, as Ang put it, “being babied by A.S.”

This cripples the orgs. Whereas even the cheapest of productions — the Public Policy Journal at UCSD — received $800 this quarter, all media orgs will have to make due with $450 a quarter through Spring Quarter 2011. The guidelines also stipulate that in order to qualify for this funding, the media orgs must start looking to outside sources for money. And elsewhere — meaning fiscal independence via a pool of money just for media orgs — is the answer.

We get it. Council is between a rock and a hard place, and a cap on spending isn’t a bad plan in itself. Last year, councilmembers made it rain for No. 15 magazine by allocating $9,000 to the production of a single issue — and though we love artistic displays of food on naked bodies  as much as the next person, $9,000 really is overkill.

Still, council shouldn’t have cut the budget so drastically to begin with. The council has nearly free reign when it comes to allocating their $2 million a year. But while Sun God Festival’s $500,000 budget remains mostly untouched, the student publications are forced to limp along a budget that wouldn’t sustain even the cheapest of them. Associate Vice President of Student Orgs Carli Thomas even said that the council prioritizes programming over media orgs.

The council knew what it was doing when it took $22,000 from the media funding allocations last week. By the time the budget hit the table, the money for Fall Quarter had already been handed off to the media orgs. Expecting the publications to fall on the sword for A.S. Council’s past and present mistakes is unfair.

But what’s done is done and, as Ang touts his favorite buzz words of “fiscally responsible,” money can’t come from nowhere. This turn of events might be just the catalyst the media orgs need to break free from A.S. Council and control their own money. A recurring complaint among the media orgs is that the council decides how to allocate, but supposedly doesn’t how to run a media org, or know the difference between the cheapest newsprint and glossiest magazine paper.

A referendum would put power in the hands of the media orgs. Instead of giving our fickle governmental mastheads the discretion to fund media orgs whatever portion of that $2 million they see fit, students would pay fees into an account designated just for the media orgs — an account council couldn’t touch. A media org board — filled with members that know just what goes into that 12-page black-and-white labor of love — would be in charge of allocating among themselves. The media org editors who deal with these questions firsthand are far more qualified to pronounce judgement on a magazine’s requested budget than a council with a limited knowledge of printing costs and Photoshop.

Passing the referendum won’t be an easy feat — the sponsors will be just another in the long string  of departments and orgs coming to council with outstretched hands (yes, Loft, we’re looking at you). But provided the referendum passes, this means no more fear of media freeze, or unsympathetic financial controllers. No more council protests over the importance of free speech and how publications compare to tradition or cultural events. The referendum would provide media orgs with a set funds that wouldn’t vanish due to disorganized or confused budgeting.

But at most, a referendum will only go into effect next year and doesn’t provide any short-term answers for how an org used to $3,000 in funding will limp by with (up to) $450. But it’ll be a start.

When media orgs aren’t a priority, continuing to depend on mommy-and-daddy council for an allowance every quarter will constrict funds and create headaches. If media orgs have the courage to stand on their own two feet, and the luck to get a referendum passed by the students come April, the A.S. Council’s training wheels will fall away in favor of a much more stable ride.

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