ALASKA — Astudent government member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks rescinded hisinitiative to reduce the student newspaper’s budget and said he was wrong tothink less funding would translate to better editorial content.
In a letter to the editorappearing in today’s Sun Star,Gavin Northey, who heads a subcommittee on dining services for the student government, announced he is abandoning his effortto slash Sun Star funding.
Northey planned on collecting enough signatures to get a referendumon the spring student government ballot so students could vote to cut thepaper’s funding. He began collecting signatures via his Web site on March 15.
Less money from thestudent government would force the Sun Starto sell more ads, which would result in a better newspaper, Northeywrote. Northey did not return a phone call or e-mails seekingcomment.
According to information on Northey’s Web site, thestudent government currently pays about 7 percent, or $30,527 of its studentassessment fee money to the Sun Star.Northey said he would like to see that number cut down to 5 percent by2007, with a vow to match 20 percent of ad sales at theSun Star.
The money theSun Star received from studentgovernment is barely enough to cover printing costs for one year, wrote thepaper’s Managing Editor Casey Grove in an April 4 column speaking out against the initiative.
In Northey’s letterto the editor in today’s paper, he said he rethought his initiative afterreading a letter tothe editor written by former managing editor Robinson Duffy, which ran on April4.
In his letter, Duffy wrote, ”As a former managing editor ofthe Sun Star, I can tell you thatNorthey’s initiative won’t give UAF a better student newspaper. Therelationship between advertising and the SunStar’s editorial decision is not as straightforward as Northeyimagines it to be.”
In his letter, Northey wrote, ”Istand corrected in that the solution I had proposed will not result in a better
Sun Star; however, I am not backingdown from my belief that the Sun Starfails to meet the nominal expectations of a student newspaper to which mystudent fees are paid.”
On his Web site, Northey lists what hesees as the paper’s major faults: ”Lack of real news, its tabloidappearance both physical and reporting, and lack of concern for many studentissues (such as student government) are what hurt theSun Star.”
The staffof the Sun Star was pleased to have theinitiative taken off the table, Grove said.
”There were twoways it could have gone [had the initiative passed],” Grove said.
”We could have had a great ad manager who sold lots of ads and the paperturns into an ad-heavy rag and the student government is on the line to payinsane funding, or ad sales go down, for whatever reason, so it just gets worseand worse because the funding gets cut. Either way, it’s a badidea.”
A feud between Grove and Northey is what spurred theinitiative in the first place, Grove said.
”He doesn’t like me,” Grove said. ”It wasn’t about improving the paper.”
Grove said the dispute began when he wrote a Nov. 15,2005, editorialcalled ”The Shit List” in which he blasted the student governmentand anticipated a “lower than thebottom of a shithouse hole” voter turnout for an upcoming student governmentelection.
In a Nov. 22. 2005, letter to the editor,Northey chided Grove for bashing the student government.
”Justbecause you have freedom of press doesn’t mean that you should use it totrash the student government that provides subsidies for the
Sun Star because it cannot raise enoughadvertising revenue or, heaven forbid, charge a newsstand price to generate theneeded revenue to be self-sufficient,” Northey wrote.
Last yeara federal court in New York ruled that using campus referendums to help decidehow to spend student funds at a public university is unconstitutional. Thedecision was based on the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decisionBoard of Regents v. Southworth thatdecided student activity fees must be distributed in a viewpoint neutralmanner.