Pressed for Cash

By Chris Roteliuk • Staff Writer

The Associated Students of UC Berkeley voided a ballot initiative this past Wednesday that would financially benefit the campus newspaper, The Daily Californian. The Vitalizing Online Information and Community Exchange initiative was an attempt to put a referendum on Berkeley’s spring general election ballot, asking student to accept a $2 fee per semester for the next five years in order to alleviate roughly half of the Daily Cal’s current $200,000 deficit. As a member of the Guardian, I empathize with the Daily Cal’s deficit situation — the Internet age has made times tough for all newspapers, especially ones run by college students, and the Guardian is currently struggling with its own financial difficulties. However, it is probably not in the best interest of an independent organization like the Daily Cal to demand students to be on the hook for its financial struggles, and the ASUC has made the right decision in blocking the V.O.I.C.E. initiative.

Rather than trying to impose mandatory student fees to temporarily fund unsustainable practices, the Daily Cal should focus on improving its sustainability and adapting to the new journalism environment. After the 2000s rapid expansion of online resources and social media outlets, the entire field of print journalism has been struggling to stay afloat. According to a 2009 article in the magazine Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry in the United States has lost one-fifth of its journalists since 2001. Many large newspaper chains since December 2008 have filed for bankruptcy, such as the Tribune Company, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Philadelphia Newspapers LLC. The biggest hit to print journalism has been a loss in advertisement revenue, as previous clients became more inclined to promote themselves via social media and other online sources. According to the Newspaper Association for America, Print Newspaper Advertising Revenue has dropped from $54 billion in 2000 to $20 billion in 2011.

This is in line with the struggles the Guardian and the Daily Cal have been facing. A drop in advertisers revenue is the exact same revenue problem we’ve had to deal with at the Guardian. In 2010, the Guardian staff realized that the organization needed to adapt a more sustainable business model if it was to survive. The Guardian threw around the idea of creating a referendum as well, but then decided it would unfairly burden students with our unsustainable budget, and the solution was tossed aside before any referendum language was developed. 

After making some tough but necessary decisions such as cutting employee pay, streamlining the amount of pages we print for each issue and revamping our marketing department, the operational side of the Guardian has become much leaner and we are finally in the black. The old models are no longer sustainable. The Daily Cal has recognized this and taken its own steps to keep the paper sustainable, such as restructuring the sales department, incorporating recruitment to business positions, embracing an online-first mentality and holding alumni fundraisers. If they continue to boost revenue through creative ways, the Daily Cal can move to a more profitable model and remain an independent publication. 

Ever since the Daily Cal became independent from UC Berkeley in the 70s, the staff has taken pride in the fact that it is funded entirely by its own advertising. This referendum would have blurred the lines between a public and an independent organization — since an organization that receives funding from mandatory student fees can hardly pass as “independent.” Blurring these lines would unfairly deteriorate the notion of a free and competitive publications market at UC Berkeley, giving the Daily Cal alone the privilege of being both student-funded and independent of school oversight. If the Daily Cal wants to continue touting its independence, then it must accept the fact that dealing with tough sustainability reforms on its own is part of being an independent newspaper. In the end, the V.O.I.C.E. initiative actually turned out to be illegal. On Wednesday, The ASUC at UC Berkeley correctly rejected the referendum as breaking Section 87.00 of the UC system fee regulations, which states that the referendum process “shall not be used to establish a new fee for the purpose of supporting a non-university organization.” 

 While it is inappropriate for the Daily Cal, an independent organization, to seek funding through student fees, this is not the only means for the publisher to receive outside help. Involved alumni can always donate voluntarily, and additional revenues can come from fundraisers. It is absolutely possible to operate on voluntary funding, even during times of struggle, and organizations should avoid the temptation to inappropriately resort to mandatory fees.

Readers can contact Chris Roteliuk at [email protected]