As publications everywhere struggle to survive, it is understandable that The Daily Californian would seek to obtain new sources of funding, such as the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative. But as representatives of other ASUC-funded publications — the Berkeley Poetry Review and CalTV — we think we speak for an unacknowledged segment of students when we say that the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative is an unethical and unproductive approach to addressing the harsh economic realities all publications currently face.
Although we recognize that The Daily Californian is an important feature of the Cal publications landscape, it is not the only publication worthy of support. Scores of other journals, magazines and reviews also exist on campus. Like any business venture, a publication exists to serve an audience; when the audience or economic situation changes significantly, so does the publication.
Each year, ASUC-funded publications must re-apply for funding and must campaign independently to keep themselves afloat. Money is drawn only from organizations or individuals who actively choose to support a given publication. But if passed, the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative will require students who might not actively choose to support The Daily Californian to pay for its operations. On an extremely basic level, we think this is unethical in that it forces every UC Berkeley student, graduate and undergraduate alike, to “pay first and ask questions later.” We think that The Daily Californian — like any other publication — should be made to demonstrate its significance on a day-by-day basis. Such a challenge, unlike the promise of continued funding, keeps both the organization and the content it produces relevant and competitive.
The Daily Californian has consistently marketed itself as an “independent” newspaper, while the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative will effectively eliminate that “independence.” If the referendum is approved, an implicit contract is created between the student body and the newspaper. A previous version of the referendum — which has since been revised for the ballot — asks students, “Do you approve this fee to ensure that Cal does not lose The Daily Californian’s print editions and that Cal’s student body has an online and print community to express its voice?” In construing the relationship between students and The Daily Californian as a relationship between purchasers and a service provider, The Daily Californian obliges itself to provide “an online and print community” without specifying precisely how this “community” will function, what it actually is, and how it will democratically serve the student body as a whole and not only those groups which The Daily Californian selects for representation.
The misleading text of the referendum points to a more significant concern with its premise in general: that The Daily Californian is the most important — or even sole — representative voice of the UC Berkeley student body. We want, respectfully, to argue that this is not the case. The sheer plurality of other publications and student groups indicates that any treatment of the newspaper as the main “voice” of the student body misses a chorus of other comparably important voices — many whose revenues are already dwarfed by that of The Daily Californian.
What’s more, The Daily Californian has invested an extensive amount of time and money into the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative campaign — money that might have been better spent seriously considering how to rework internal operations so that a debt might never have arisen in the first place. Similarly, the focus of the pro-V.O.I.C.E. Initiative campaign has been on convincing the student body to institute its desired campuswide fee, not on accountability. It is asking the student body to fund not only a debt, but dependence on the print medium while many other publications are moving online. The Daily Californian has not provided any meaningfully specific information about why it accrued such major debt in the first place, nor has it offered students clear commitments to operational changes that will ensure such debt does not appear again.
Students might find that The Daily Californian, like many of the other high-quality publications at Cal, deserves their monetary support. In that case, they are free to donate whatever amount of money they wish to the newspaper. But passing a referendum that demands all students financially support an entity they may not be interested in, or benefit from — especially an entity that touts its “independence” from the UC administration — is straightforwardly wrong. It does damage to the notion of a free and competitive publications market, where sometimes drastic changes are necessary and even advantageous.
Feel free to write your own check in support of The Daily Californian, or any other campus publication — but please vote NO on the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative.
Andrew David King is the business manager of the Berkeley Poetry Review and was formerly employed by The Daily Californian. Myles Moscato is a co-executive director of CalTV.