Student news organization at U. of North Florida attributes budget cut to ‘friction’ with student government

FLORIDA — The student government at the University of North Florida has cut a student news organization’s funding by 6.8 percent for the 2015-16 fiscal year, even after the media organization’s leaders argued the cut would lead to insufficient funding.

Now, members of the student media organization — Spinnaker Media — are questioning whether tension between the organizations led to the cut.

Last fall, the student government released its budget, which will go into effect on July 1. Spinnaker Media will receive $236,132.37 — a 6.8 percent decline from the previous year. The budget includes provisions to specify how much the student-run media organization should spend on equipment, salaries and printing, which Connor Spielmaker, Spinnaker Media’s station manager, said was an effort to increase accountability.

Spinnaker Media operates a magazine, a radio station, a website and a television station.

The student senate had an emergency session Monday night, after the university’s vice president for student affairs urged them to discuss Spinnaker’s budget, Spielmaker said. At the meeting, the student senators voted to remove two provisions: one that detailed how many copies of their magazine Spinnaker had to print and another that required Spinnaker TV and Radio officials to disclose their employees and the employees’ hours worked each semester.

Spielmaker said the organization’s leaders have decided to use their savings account “to make up the shortfall in funding.” He said student government will allow money to move freely between the different departments in Spinnaker but the organization would have to receive approval from the student senate if it needs to reallocate money assigned for wages to buy equipment.

John Timpe, Spinnaker Media’s adviser, said budget cuts can be detrimental to student media organizations, especially when advertising revenue is down. Although the organization received a boost in advertising money between 2008 and 2010, ad revenue had decreased in the past few years, he said.

Timpe said Spinnaker is divided into two departments: print and broadcast. Although each are treated as one unit in the budget, line items separate their funding. 

During the 2007-08 fiscal year, funding for the print department was $104,000. While funding for that department is $47,000 in the current year, Timpe said it will be $27,300 in the upcoming fiscal year. 

Spielmaker said Spinnaker’s leaders met with student government in the fall to discuss their concerns with the proposed budget, but those conversations proved fruitless. Student government members said it would cut budgets across the board, Spielmaker said, because of a decline in enrollment at UNF.

The university saw a 0.7 percent decline in enrollment from the previous year. Between 2004 and 2013, federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System numbers show UNF enrollment increased 10.7 percent.

Spielmaker said Spinnaker leaders met with the university president and the vice president for student affairs to discuss their concerns.

“While the administration seems a little bit more pro-our cause, they still are unwilling to usurp the students’ will in the student senate,” Spielmaker said.

On Feb. 20, Student Body President Joseph Turner vetoed the proposed budget, but the student senate overrode his veto in a hearing on Feb. 23.

During the hearing, Spinnaker leaders asked the student senate to reconsider the budget’s line items and allow the media organization’s members to decide how to spend the money so they could best deal with the budget cut, Spielmaker said, but the senate passed the budget without any changes.

Student Senator Matthew Silberstein said at the hearing he doesn’t understand why Spinnaker thought it was appropriate to ask the senate to change the budget at the last minute.

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” Silberstein said at the hearing. “Spinnaker, you had your chances. You didn’t take advantage of it.”

Silberstein declined to comment about the budget situation.

Student government received nearly $4.5 million to allocate to different organizations in 2015-16. The money comes from a student activities and services fee, which costs students $10.23 per credit hour.

Spielmaker said he wonders if tension between student government and Spinnaker Media had anything to do with the budget cuts, “especially with senators making comments like ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you.’” He said he couldn’t recall a particular event or story dealing with student government that would cause tension, adding that there’s “ the general sentiment that reporting on anything but the good things is bad.”

Timpe said a checks-and-balances system between government and media creates a natural tension between the two groups.

Turner said at a Feb. 13 press conference he wants there to be “friction” between student government and Spinnaker Media, adding that the two groups shouldn’t be “all buddy-buddy” because the media is the watchdog of government.

“That’s not to say that we should hate each other and be at odds all the time,” Turner said at the conference.

Turner declined to comment on the budget situation.

Spielmaker said there does need to be a separation between media and government, but he doesn’t think it’s healthy for these two groups “to be arguing all the time about things that, to us, seem so basic.”

“I just see that as another misunderstanding from the side of student government,” Spielmaker said. “They think they know how we operate and where our money needs to go, but the problem is they don’t and that’s why we are in the predicament that we are in.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Mariana Viera by email or at (202) 478-1926.

Correction (3/4/2015, 12:35 p.m.): This story was updated to more accurately represent the Spinnaker Media print department’s decline in revenue.