Missouri newspaper threatens university with lawsuit to restore funding

MISSOURI — The student newspaper at the University of Missouri at Rolla delivered an ultimatum to university administrators Monday, saying that if its funding is not restored in full by Feb. 19 the staff will pursue legal action.

The student legislature voted to cut about $10,000 from The Missouri Miner’s budget in November 2006, claiming that the paper printed grammatically incorrect and biased content and its distribution should be reduced. The measure was a part of student government’s annual allocation of student funds. Campus administrators later approved the budget package, including the item curtailing the newspaper’s funds.

University spokesman Andrew Careaga would not comment on the ultimatum, but he said administrators generally prefer to allow students to govern themselves without interference.

“We try to prepare them and give them the kind of skills they need to mediate and resolve these kinds of issues,” Careaga said.

Student Body President Lauren Huchingson refused to comment and deferred to the university’s official statement.

Michele Martin, who was editor in chief of The Missouri Miner when the budget was approved in November, said she would prefer to see the issue resolved without resorting to legal action.

“The last thing we want to do is bring a lawsuit,” Martin said. “Not because it’s going to be difficult for us and what not. It’s just not something we want to do. We all go to school here; we don’t want to cause more problems.”

The budget reduction, which accounted for a third of the newspaper’s budget, was initially targeted at writer’s salaries, said Chris Stryker, who took over as editor in chief after Martin. That was a serious blow to morale, he said, because many on staff could not afford to work without compensation. But the newspaper was able to continue paying salaries by making cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Thus far the staff has been able to maintain the paper’s 4,000-weekly distribution, but at the cost of content. Issues have been cut down to between 14 and 16 pages, rather than the previous 22, and it can no longer afford to run as many color pages.

Stryker said the newspaper can only print the most essential news, with less space for the opinion page.

“We have gotten complaints that the paper is too dry now,” he said.

Martin, who now serves as advertising director, anticipates about $30,000 in ad sales this year, but she doubts if more can be drawn from the local businesses.

“We’re in a small town, we’ve pretty much maxed out advertising as is,” she said.

By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer