Student officials at N.Y. college lock student journalists out of newsroom

NEW YORK — A disagreement over funding between the Student Government Association and the staff of the Outlook student newspaper came to a head at SUNY Rockland Community College during the week of June 6, when the student government locked the newspaper staff out of its newsroom.

The staff had been negotiating with the student government over its contract for funding, which the student journalists claim comes with too many stipulations. The newspaper is funded through student fees and advertising revenue. The student government is responsible for distributing the student fee money.

Frustrated with the stipulations, Outlook staffers told the student government in early June they no longer wanted the student fee money. The student government and Suzanne Phillips, Interim Dean of Student Personnel Services, responded by changing the locks on the newsroom doors, claiming that if the newspaper did not receive student money, they could no longer use the name the Outlook or use the school’s office space, Outlook adviser Ian Blake Newman said.

Phillips declined to comment on the situation, saying it had “been resolved.”

Student government officials did not return calls for comment.

After discussing its issues with administrators and student government officials, the Outlook gained entry into its offices on June 13. Newman said the short term crisis has been resolved, but the staff is looking to become more independent from the student government in the long run.

The biggest change the newspaper would like to see would be in its contract for student fee money. The terms of the contract include newspaper staffers giving monthly reports of the newspaper’s activities to the student government or risking a fine of $600. The student government also sets how many issues the paper can print, and printing fewer than the required number can earn the paper a fine of $1,400 per missed issue. Student government also controls how much the newspaper staff can be paid.

Newman said the stipulations are “antithetical to the free press.” The staff asked for fewer stipulations, he said but they kept receiving more.

Outlook Editor in Chief Rebekah Binger said the process of working with the student government has been frustrating.

“I just want to run the paper, and the stipulations they put on our budget prevents us from running the paper properly,” Binger said. “A newspaper should be able to run independently, and our integrity is compromised if we have to answer to someone else.”

The problems have been ongoing, former Editor in Chief Allison Innis said, and the relationship with the Student Government Association has always been strained.

“Every year there’s a new student government and a new staff for the Outlook,” Innis said. “Every year this bad relationship is passed on, it never heals and never gets better.”

Innis said she believes the student government is unhappy with some of the stories the paper has written about them, such as one about a member of the student government who allegedly became intoxicated and was taken to the hospital. She said the student government uses the monthly meetings as a way of “having a hold” on the paper.

Newman said the paper would like to receive student fees without having it doled out to them by student government. He said he hopes with new student government members the newspaper staff can work out a new agreement. He believes the paper could survive without student money by relying on advertising revenue, but he said it would be tough.

“We want to be independent from the undue influence of student government,” Newman said.

–By Rebecca McNulty