Florida International University’s student government cut the budget of the student paper, PantherNOW, for the fourth year in a row on March 24.
This came just two weeks after the paper reported the Elections Board violated an election code that said SGA must publish the ballot a week before the election, leaving students unaware of who or what they were voting for. PantherNOW’s Editor-in-Chief Gerard Albert believes SGA cut the paper by $5,000 in retaliation for these recent stories, but says SGA’s leadership will never come out and say it.
What they did say, is that they were displeased with PantherNOW’s coverage of the cuts. SPLC requested SGA’s comment, but they referred us to a letter they wrote to “publicly condemn” the paper, which they posted on the FIUSGA Instagram. The statement says the headline, “SGA Slashes Student Media Budget, Increase Greek Life Funding,” is “yellow journalism,” and “fake news.”
“Yellow journalism? Haven’t heard that since the ‘20s,” Albert said. “I think what may have happened was they were mad that we called them out for saying there were cuts across the board, but really they only cut us and the Black Student Union while increasing Greek Life.”
SGA argued cutting PantherNOW’s budget from $265,000 to $260,000 isn’t a “slash,” and that they didn’t cut them in order to fund Greek Life further. PantherNOW’s budget in 2018 was $328,000. Their budget was higher in 2009 than in 2020. They also cut the Black Student Union from $150,000 to $130,000. The total SGA budget is more than $20 million.
Albert said Student Media, composed of the student paper and radio station The Roar, requested a budget of over $300,000 with the intention of increasing their hours and updating the station’s equipment. He said that while the equipment is old, Station Manager Anabelle Torres is making it work.
“They’re operating on machines that work because of duct tape and a prayer right now, but they make it work,” Albert said. “It’s like they’re rubbing two sticks together when Zippo lighters have been invented.”
Torres said they’re dipping into Student Media’s savings to pay for their radio tower rental fees to keep their signal running, but that money is meant for emergency repairs, like if a hurricane damages a tower. If they keep dipping in, Torres said, that pot will be depleted in two years, but that from her perspective, SGA doesn’t care. The president even called the station “a dying medium.”
They’re operating on machines that work because of duct tape and a prayer
Torres said that while their studio might not be in the best shape, across all three of their signals, they get about one million potential listeners, but cutting their funding further would make it hard for them to do their job because they get very little ad revenue.
Torres said the relationship between SGA and Student Media has been strained since Albert published a story that led a former SGA president to resign in 2018. Albert reported that the president promised paid positions in order to run unopposed.
“There’s definitely been a lot of history between SGA and student media at FIU,” Torres said. “A previous SGA president said ‘If we can’t control you, we don’t want to fund you.’”
they could pay us nothing and we’d still be out there producing. We all love journalism and value the student voice, so nothing can stop us, it would just be like eating glass.
Student Press Law Center Staff Attorney Sommer Ingram Dean said she tells students in situations like PantherNOW to document every incident that points to retaliation, which is a violation of the public school students’ First Amendment rights.
“Those sound like all sorts of proof that we tell student media to look for when there’s been a funding cut,” Dean said. “If there’s ever any sort of comments about their displeasure with the coverage, any threats about trying to shut them down, those all show that the funding wasn’t just a matter of cutting across the board, but targeting student media.”
Dean said that they’re doing the right thing by publishing the budget cut, but if the cut goes through, they need to consider whether they’re willing to take legal action.
this is a growing trend that we’re seeing in college media, particularly when SG controls student media’s funds, it’s a dangerous relationship to have
Albert says that he plans to speak with SPLC, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the Society for Professional Journalists for advice on the best course of legal action to get back the funding they need.
“None of this is personal against SGA, it’s just two entities disagreeing about how much funding we deserve,” Albert said. “Honestly, they could pay us nothing and we’d still be out there producing. We all love journalism and value the student voice, so nothing can stop us, it would just be like eating glass.”
But while Albert said PantherNOW can get by on “a pen, paper and a website,” The Roar is in a different situation.
Torres said that if they can’t pay for their three signals, they’ll have to switch to an online streaming software, which would cut their listenership down to about 50,000. But she said those 50,000 people are all going to the site to read the articles. Right now, they get around four returning listeners to their stream.
“We’d just be a tab on PantherNOW’s website, which is heartbreaking,” Torres said.
A widespread issue
“I think this is a growing trend that we’re seeing in college media, particularly when SG controls student media’s funds, it’s a dangerous relationship to have,” Dean said. “When they’re dissatisfied with the coverage, they cut their budget.”
Toress said she hates to see The Roar turn out like other stations across the country that have to stop broadcasting on airwaves because of lacking funds.
“I think this is happening with a lot of college stations. We’re all being dejected by our universities and pushed away from the community,” Torres said. “We’re going to continue to produce everything, but we’re definitely feeling the same way as other stations across the country.”
And while student media can fight back (check out a few ways here), Dean doesn’t see this trend slowing down any time soon.
SPLC reporter Cameren Boatner can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Follow her on Twitter @camerenboatner.Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.