Editor’s note: If you’re facing a newsroom budget cut, contact SPLC’s legal hotline for help.
OREGON — Southern Oregon University’s student newspaper, The Siskiyou faced a dwindling bank account after the student government budget committee voted to cut all their funding for the 2020-2021 academic year. But after the editors’ testimony and alumni appeal letters, the budget committee reversed its decision in a Feb. 25 meeting — restoring $3,000.
At first, co-editors Emiliana Rawley and Autumn Micketti thought the cut was an error. Their budget of $3,897, which allowed them to pay their staff of nine people, was gone on the 2020-2021 budget proposal spreadsheet.
But it was real. Student government’s Student Fee Allocation Committee voted on Feb. 12 to entirely defund The Siskiyou and two other student programs.
Rawley and Micketti spoke in front of the SFAC at a Feb. 18 budget hearing to appeal their decision, and explain why the 93-year-old, online-only Siskiyou deserves funding.
“The Siskiyou keeps the student body informed about current events happening on and off campus as well as school and community related news,” Micketti said at the hearing. “Taking away this resource would not only affect the writers who work extremely hard to make The Siskiyou what it is, but would also negatively affect the student population who would no longer have a reliable news source that reflects student values and voices.”
It’s important to the campus community to have a vibrant and independent student paper
Rawley said they wouldn’t have been able to operate normally without funding. The Siskiyou staff has had multiple budget crises in recent years. They went fully online in 2012 to cut costs, became a university class in 2014, and convinced the student government to fund them when the school cut the class in 2016. Their budget in 2016 was $10,000.
This academic year alone, their faculty adviser went on sabbatical, they lost two top editors and they lost the room they were based out of — Rawley said they couldn’t afford another loss.
“Without adequate funding, student writers would not be paid for their valuable work, and we could not refund any tickets that are bought for event coverage,” Rawley said at the hearing. The Siskiyou pays staff $11.25 an hour.
After the hearing, deliberation and appeals process, the student fee committee voted to reallocate funding from the Oregon Student Association, an organization that advocates for student interests across the state, to The Siskiyou.
Siskiyou alumni wrote letters to student government, asking them to reverse the decision, which the paper sent in an appeal letter on Thursday, Feb. 20.
James Maxwell, Siskiyou sports editor in 1976, said it makes no sense to cut the paper’s entire budget because of how many people it’s helped. After his time at The Siskiyou, Maxwell went on to win a Pulitzer with the Bristol Herald Courier.
“It just defies logic to defund the paper,” Maxwell said in an interview with SPLC. “Journalism and a free press allows us to expand our knowledge and experience and forces conversation that’s crucial to the university.”
Sara Bristol, Siskiyou editor-in-chief in 1998, wrote a letter saying her experience at the student paper was integral to getting a job after graduating. She said student media is often the only opportunity for a student to get published, without which, there’s no shot at getting a job in the profession.
Olivia Bozarth, student government vice president said it was this appeal letter, including the written testimony from alumni, that made the committee decide to fund the paper.
“We took a hard look at the appeals and the testimony people submitted, and determined The Siskiyou needed the funding to keep going,” Bozarth said.
An alternate source of funding
After The Siskiyou editors spoke at the hearing, but before they won the appeal, the athletics department offered to give up $1,500 of its budget to reallocate to the newspaper, even though it hasn’t covered sports this semester.
Micketti told SPLC she was “quite touched that they offered.”
SOU Athletic Director Matt Sayer said both the assistant athletic director and the sports information director worked at The Siskiyou while in college, so it was important to them.
“They’re valuable to the culture of SOU and it’s important to the campus community to have a vibrant and independent student paper,” Sayer said.
Necessity or expendable ?
The Siskiyou staff doesn’t believe SFAC voted to defund them for any content-based reason, so even if the budget cut had gone through, it would’ve been legal.
Student Press Law Center’s Staff Attorney Sommer Ingram Dean said a budget cut is unconstitutional when it’s in retaliation against a student publication’s content.
This whole situation has personally opened my eyes even wider to the importance of the truth
“Any time a budget cut is tied by the people in charge of dispersing the money to the content the newspaper is putting out, it’s unconstitutional,” Dean said. “If it truly is just a budget cut because of a lack of funding, it is a problem, but it’s not problematic legally.”
Rawley said student government is struggling for money because they were allotted less from the state — the bike exchange program and the national student exchange program were also entirely defunded.
Student body president Britany Sharp said the cuts were “nothing personal,” and were “unbiased.” SFAC had three criteria for whether to fund a group: Fundraising, costs compared with how many students they benefit, and the community benefit.
Even before learning the funding had been restored, Rawley told SPLC The Siskiyou staff was determined to keep reporting on campus news.
“Autumn and I accepted the jobs of co-editors with the mission to produce [unbiased], accurate content for our school,” Rawley said in an email. “This whole situation has personally opened my eyes even wider to the importance of the truth. We are both going to remain unbiased in our continued reporting.”
- SPLC’s podcast on when budget cuts are unconstitutional.
- Tips to rescue your publication’s finances.
- Guide for what to do when your budget gets cut.
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