V.O.I.C.E. Initiative follows national college newspaper trend

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Following a national trend of college newspapers turning to student fee referendums to ease tight budgets, The Daily Californian has campaigned for a student fee to support the newspaper’s print operations and expand its online presence.

College newspapers across the country have requested student fees to support their operations — chiefly between 2009 and 2012 in the aftermath of the economic crisis — and have received mixed responses from student bodies. Editors in chief from multiple schools say they have tried different strategies before introducing student fees.

The Daily Cal’s V.O.I.C.E. Initiative asks students to vote on a $2 semesterly student fee for the newspaper. If passed, the referendum would last five years and generate about $93,800 revenue annually. Debate around the initiative has chiefly focused on the newspaper’s relationship with the campus and community. Some students said the Daily Cal would have a monopoly over information and local advertisements, while additional concerns were raised about how the funds will be distributed within the organization.

CalTV Director of Business, Advertising and Marketing Elizabeth Kopaskie said the initiative would be a “further monopolization of campus publications that is inherently in violation of (its) diverse and inclusive spirit.”

Daily Cal Editor in Chief and President Tomer Ovadia said the newspaper is not alone in its financial struggles and fee campaign, citing similar fees passed by other campuses. However, the Daily Cal is unlike many other student newspapers in that it is independent from the university it serves.

Within the UC system, the results of similar referendums supporting student newspapers have not been consistent. A student fee to support the student newspaper failed at UC Riverside in 2009 but passed at UC Santa Barbara in 2011 and at UCLA in 2009.

Concerns over student budgets stretched by tuition prevented students from increasing the fee funding the Highlander — UC Riverside’s student paper — from $2 per quarter to $3.25 per quarter beginning in fall 2011, according to current Editor in Chief Chris LoCascio.

At UCLA, a referendum to increase student fees by $12.75 per quarter was passed in 2009 to benefit UCLA Student Media and six other groups, similar to the original version of the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative. The referendum apportioned $3 of the fee to student media, including the Daily Bruin.

A previous version of the Daily Cal’s referendum would have asked students to pay a $5 semesterly student fee that would have supported the Daily Cal and other student media groups. But after other groups raised concerns that the Daily Cal did not fully disclose the details of the organization’s overall fiscal budget or how the fee’s revenue would be spent, the proposal was dropped.

Student newspapers at two public research universities in other states — the University of Connecticut and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign — faced defeat and victory, respectively, in bringing forth referendums similar to the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative in March.

Editor in Chief of the Daily Illini Samantha Kiesel said her newspaper worried about losing editorial freedom with the advent of a $3 semesterly student fee but still campaigned to pass it March 8.

The Daily Campus at the University of Connecticut did not garner the same support, since students voted down a proposed $3 fee increase by a slim margin of 54 to 46 percent in March. Students at the university’s Storrs campus already pay $7 per semester to support the newspaper, however.

Staff writer Daphne Chen contributed to this report.

Chloe Hunt is the lead student government reporter.