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Fate of UC Irvine student newspaper hangs on campus election

April 19, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck
  • A UC Irvine student reads a copy of the campus newspaper New University between classes.
A UC Irvine student reads a copy of the campus newspaper New University between… (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)

The longtime campus newspaper at UC Irvine may be forced to cease printing in the next year if students fail to approved a quarterly fee to help sustain the weekly publication.

Like newspapers across the country, rising printing costs have forced UCI's weekly New University to cut back, according to the paper's student editor.

Once a robust 60-page newspaper, the paper has shrunk to 24 pages in the last six years and editors  have had their compensation chopped in half, now earning between $24 and $50 a week.

Students are now voting on Measure U, which asks for a 99-cent quarterly fee to support the student-run newspaper. Voting began Monday and runs through Friday. Results will be announced next week.

"What would happen is if it doesn't pass? We think that we would be able to sustain the print [edition] for one more year. After that we would have to go all digital," said New University Editor in Chief Jessica Pratt.

The referendum would ease that transition, hopefully sustaining the physical product for an additional five years and possibly building reserves while students discern the future of New University's print edition, Pratt said.

"We'll see how we are after five years because we don't really know where it's going," she said.

Professional and student newspapers have been making the transition to online-only publication while struggling with lagging advertising and rising printing costs. While metropolitan newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register have put up paywalls and charge readers for online content, others have shut their doors or gone online only.

Pratt said those options would be devastating to New University's readership. About 8,000 free copies are printed weekly. Other options could undermine the independence of the paper, which currently takes no money from the university.

"We can't exactly go to the administration for money because that's a conflict of interest, so we thought that we could go to students," Pratt said.

If Measure U passes, undergraduates would pay 99 cents a quarter except in the summer.  A third of the money would go back to funding financial aid, a campus policy requirement for new student fees.

The remaining 66% would fund printing — which Pratt said runs more than $1,500 a week for the reduced-size issue — and other production costs.  New University would also provide an annual report to show the money is being spent properly, according to Measure U's text.

Pratt said people she had spoken to were generally supportive of the fee when they understood the issue, but there's a significant hurdle.

"To be completely honest, I am a little worried about our chances," she said.

To pass, at least 25% of the student population must vote and 60% of those must approve of Measure U.

In last year's election, about 6,200 people, or 28% of undergraduate students, participated in the vote, Associated Students Election Commissioner John Delshadi said.

It's typical to reach that needed quorum in spring elections, but it's also common for students to turn down fee increases, he said.

Delshadi said a student government measure and a bus measure failed to be approved last year when they were on the ballot with a tuition hike.

"Those factors combined pushed it toward the 'no' side," he said.

Including Measure U, there are three measures on the April ballot asking for increased student contributions, he said.

New University staffers have tried to get a student fee to support the newspaper before and failed, Pratt said. She hoped the fact that Measure U asks for just 99 cents would change the outcome.

"I think it's just a matter of making people understand that we're independent and this is pretty much our last resort," she said.


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