Rutgers student newspaper awaits decision to allow students to opt-out of funding paper

NEW JERSEY — The Daily Targum at RutgersUniversity in New Brunswick, N.J., is awaiting a decision on whether studentswill be able to opt-out of paying a $9.75 student activity fee in support of thestudent paper.

The anticipation comes after the RU Senate voted in favor of an opt-outrecommendation that would allow students to choose to pay the newspaper fee atthe beginning of a semester instead of requesting a refund at the end of asemester. However, the senate only makes recommendations that need approval fromthe university President Richard McCormick.

The Daily Targum has been an independent student newspaper since1980 and is one of two “special student organizations,” whichreceive funding from the university. RU policy gives students the opportunity torequest a refund of the newspaper fee at the end of the semester.

With the approval of an opt-out box available before the semester, thenewspaper staff expects to see a great drop in funding.

“As of right now, if even 10 percent of students opt-out, we arelooking at at least one day of production or maybe two being cut and some cutsto student positions,” said Dan Bracaglia, editor in chief. “Onaverage right now we generally have in the vicinity of 150 students opt-out asemester or about .5 percent of the student population.”

He said that the Targum receives about $212,400 a semester from the$9.75 fee, which is about one-third of the paper’s operating budget of$1,248,000.

Ryan Cooke, student representative to the Board of Governors, suggested thesenate consider a newspaper opt-out box at the beginning of a semester.

“I started from the principle that students should have the right toopt out on the term bill as opposed to jumping through loopholes to try and geta refund,” he said. “Students aren’t sure how to get therefund. It’s a basic student right issue.”

At a student assembly Cooke heard complaints regarding the opt-out and theTargum. He also received e-mails concerning the situation.

“My job is to look at and say ‘what’s best for thestudents that I represent?'” he said. “I am very confidentthat the administration is not going to let the Targum become a non-dailynewspaper.”

Because the paper is a special organization, Cooke said the Targumshould not be treated differently from the other special organization, the NewJersey Public Interest Research Group that has an opt-out box available at thebeginning of a term.

The senate voted in favor of the recommendation Nov. 21, but McCormick willdecide after the end of the semester.

“President McCormick has acknowledged publicly the importance of theDaily Targum as a historical record of the University. The continuedexistence of the newspaper and its editorial independence are not in doubt. Theonly question is the process of funding it,” E.J. Miranda, RUspokesperson, said.

Frank LoMonte, director of the Student Press Law Center, said that whenleft with the option to pay lowered fees, students would likely take the opt-outwithout considering their ability to obtain news.

He said that funding a newspaper should not be decided by a popularity voteand doing so could lead to the newspaper not reporting on serious issues.

“With ad revenue quickly decreasing and our classified page taking amajor hit this year especially, if the opt-out passes, we will almostdefinitely, again depending on the numbers, be cutting at least a day ofproduction and some staff positions in both editorial and business,”Bracaglia said.