Student-produced magazine at U. of North Florida to take brunt of budget cuts

FLORIDA — The student-produced magazine at the University of North Florida is in jeopardy.

Budget cuts in the 2015-16 fiscal year are just part of a series of setbacks that has hit Spinnaker Magazine, the print product of Spinnaker Media, which also operates a radio station, a television station and a website.

When the university’s student government announced earlier this year it would have to cut Spinnaker’s budget, the print operation was hit the hardest. The print product will now operate with 73.7 percent less money than it had in 2007.

In order to make that work, Spinnaker TV station manager Connor Spielmaker said the organization will have to dip into its emergency account.

Recent cuts

According to the student government budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, Spinnaker will receive $236,132.37 — a 6.8-percent cut from the current year. But when the media adviser’s salary is taken out of the equation — because that’s money the students can’t use — the total cut is 13 percent.

Spinnaker’s operating expenses were cut 20.3 percent and student wages were cut 5.6 percent.

John Timpe, Spinnaker’s media adviser, said a decrease in enrolled credit hours has affected student government funding. The Bright Futures Scholarship Program, a merit-based scholarship program for Florida high school students, reduced the amount of summer classes students can take, which affected the Activity and Services Fee that is calculated using enrolled credit hours times the rate of the fee. Most of Spinnaker’s money comes from this fee.

Spielmaker said Spinnaker leaders met with student government to discuss their budget concerns in the fall. The student senate passed the budget on Feb. 23. Spinnaker leaders had asked the student senate to pool the money given to Spinnaker so they could better distribute the money, which Spielmaker said was an effort to lessen the impact of the budget cut on Spinnaker’s print operation.

In an emergency meeting on March 2, the student senate allowed Spinnaker to move the money between line items in their operating expenses, “which isn’t the full lump sum we were hoping to do but it is a step towards it,” said Shannon Pulusan, the publisher for Spinnaker Magazine.

Though moving money between the line items makes handling the cuts easier, Spinnaker’s print operation is still taking the brunt of the cuts.

Cuts devastating to print

When the March issue of Spinnaker Magazine went to print, students saw blank front and back covers and a blank centerfold. Pulusan had been working on the March magazine when the budget discussions were going on and she wanted to let students know that losing the print product was a very real possibility.

“That took a lot of guts to do that on my part,” she said. “It was a very stressful issue to print.”

In the upcoming fiscal year, Pulusan said Spinnaker’s print department will get $27,300 — a 41.9 percent cut compared to the current year’s $47,000.

“All these cuts are keeping us from doing the same quality or even better,” Pulusan said. “It’s also not sufficient enough to pay for our employees.”

In the last few years, Spinnaker’s print organization has shifted gears several times because of budgetary constraints. Spinnaker published a weekly newspaper until Fall 2013 when the publication transitioned to a monthly magazine. In the 2007-08 fiscal year, the print operation had a $103,641 budget. For 2015-16, print will receive $27,300 — a 73.7 percent cut in eight years.

Pulusan said the recent cuts to the print product were made because student government didn’t think Spinnaker should print as many copies of the magazine, so they reduced the budget and told Pulusan to print less.

“But those numbers that they came up with to budget $27,300 was based off conjecture,” she said. “They thought that that amount was sufficient, when in fact there’s a lot of variables in how we print and how much it costs us.”

Pulusan said student government didn’t calculate the cost of paying reporters and editors when writing the budget for the print division.

History of tension

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

That’s what student senator Matthew Silberstein told Spinnaker members when the student senate passed the budget on Feb. 23. The comment led Spielmaker to wonder if tension between Spinnaker and student government had anything to do with the cuts.

Spielmaker said he can’t think of a particular story or event that led to increased tension between the two organizations, but Spinnaker’s “coverage of the University is extensive and we’re pretty decent at getting to things people probably don’t want us to.”

Spielmaker said Spinnaker had almost daily coverage of tension between the student body president and the student senate last fall.

Timpe said media organizations on UNF’s campus have been censored before. The university’s first student newspaper, The Halyard, was shut down in 1975 because the student government at the time was unhappy with its coverage and wanted to control its content, Timpe said. In the mid-2000s, student government members threatened to eliminate funding for the student radio station.

Spinnaker Media has also had issues with newspaper thefts. In 2013, a Florida state trooper stole thousands of copies of the newspaper because a story reflected negatively on his brother and a friend. In 2010, Spinnaker had another run in with newspaper thefts that baffled the editors. In 2002, UNF’s cross country team stole about 1,600 newspapers because of an article about the university’s track team.

Timpe said although there’s no document explicitly saying Spinnaker should have some money saved up on the side, they knew “they might need it if student fee funding ever dried up or got significantly reduced or if they ever had ad sales problems.”

What’s next for Spinnaker?

Pulusan said the March issue has sparked conversation on campus about Spinnaker’s funding — and its future.

“I’ve been told that that has inspired a few petitions within the university in support of Spinnaker and student government having future discussions to really get us at a healthy fund for the future,” she said.

Spielmaker said one of the parties for the university’s student government showed their support for Spinnaker on Facebook and made properly funding the media organization a part of the platform.

Though seeing support for Spinnaker is great, Spielmaker said the media organizations is also dealing with the loss of one of their main advertisers.

“We have kind of our three major advertisers, and UNF just purchased one of those advertisers,” he said. “They’re not advertising with us anymore. We lost a very large chunk that isn’t coming back because of that.”

Spielmaker said ad sales have gone down in the past few years, adding that it’s tough to sell ads when “advertising in general with media is coming down nationally.”

To make up for the loss in ad revenue, Spielmaker said the business office is running social media campaigns for outside entities and the TV department is doing video production work.

“We’re trying, but we can only do so much to make up a shortfall, and to bring in what the shortfall was, we’d have to double what we made last year in revenue,” he said.

Spielmaker said the cut would force Spinnaker to dip into its emergency fund to make up for the shortfall in funding.

“We will be dipping into our emergency fund, which puts us in a very precarious situation for next year,” Spielmaker said. “If this funding thing isn’t resolved by next year, we will have to obviously dip in again.”

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