Montclair State editor says he wants newspaper’s financial independence

NEW JERSEY — Amid a dispute with the student government treasurer, the editor of Montclair State University’s weekly student newspaper has announced his intention to seek financial independence from the student government.

In a Feb. 8 editorial, Montclarion Editor in Chief Karl de Vries said the impetus for the announcement was student government Treasurer Maria Soares’ attempt to cut the paper’s roughly $103,000 budget, which de Vries claims was motivated by a personal vendetta. Soares maintains the decision to cut funding, which has since been overruled by the student body president and legislature, was a response to the newspaper’s overspending.

“For years, such a worst-case scenario has been the paranoid talk of Montclarion editors, a bad dream never to be wished fruition,” de Vries said in the editorial. “Trouble is, we now live in a world where the worst-case scenario has happened.”

He conceded that breaking away from the student government would be a long and complicated process, and he said in the editorial that he plans to run for a second term as editor on the platform of suspending financial ties between the newspaper and the student government.

In an interview, de Vries acknowledged that achieving independence would be a daunting undertaking — one previous Montclarion editors have attempted unsuccessfully. But he said that it is imperative some action be taken to avoid another threat to the newspaper.

The newspaper’s finances are intrinsically tied to student government. Not only does student funding account for almost all of the newspaper’s budget, but three-quarters of the newspaper’s roughly $70,000 annual advertising revenue goes back to the student government general account, de Vries said.

Without offering specifics, de Vries said he would like to see the newspaper’s funding be secured by the public university’s administration, rather than student government, to avoid the symbiotic relationship between The Montclarion and the student leadership it covers.

“I think the staff recognizes that we are a little bit threatened by student government,” he said. “I think there is an inherit moral conflict of interest.”

Although in this instance checks and balances prevented the funding freeze, de Vries expressed concern that Soares could have prevailed with the support of more student leaders.

The Montclarion and Soares have a “long and ugly personal history,” de Vries wrote in the editorial, which began last spring when she removed some issues from newsstands after she did not win the newspaper’s endorsement. The newspaper reported that she told two reporters at the time that she threw away dozens of newspapers.

In a phone interview Monday, Soares called the charge libelous, and she maintains she took only a few papers to show her family.

Conflict arose again in December 2006, when Soares was facing impeachment charges of financial nonfeasance, a Montclarion editorial called for her resignation. Soares remained in office, and on Feb. 5 she delivered a letter to the newspaper’s office announcing the cessation of all the newspaper’s funding.

Soares acknowledged that she has had disagreements with the paper in the past, but she said her actions were in keeping with her official responsibility.

“I’m a professional. When I’m working in my office, I’m a professional,” she said.

By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer