Cuts hit student newspaper
Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 6:00 pm
By: By The Associated Press
The Messenger 08.01.12
MEMPHIS (AP) — Students and some alumni of the University of Memphis’s student newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, are claiming a university committee slashed its funding by a third over complaints about its content.
The Commercial Appeal reports (http://bit.ly/M521S8 ) that back in April, the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee voted to give the newspaper $50,000 in funding, which was a $25,000 decrease from the previous year.
Newspaper staff says the dramatic cut could result in pay cuts for approximately 30 student journalists and three full-time professionals that operate the newspaper and even a reduction in publication days.
“We may have to cut back the days we publish, the pages we publish or ask the students to write for no pay,” said Candy Justice, the newspaper’s general manager. “Something’s going to have to be eliminated. This paper might have to go from a daily to a weekly, which is a horrible step backward.”
From the perspective of the staff at the newspaper, the committee members disapproved of what the newspaper published and what it failed to print.
“It’s a First Amendment violation,” said Justice. “It’s just one more example of what the Helmsman has to put up with.”
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center outside Washington, D.C., said that courts have ruled that public universities cannot cut funding to a student newspaper over content.
“If that’s the case, it’s a slam-dunk First-Amend-ment violation,” LoMonte said. “A government agency can’t condition funding on whether it likes or dislikes the First Amendment expression of the individuals receiving funding.”
But university administrators strictly deny that the cut in funding is related to the newspaper’s coverage of the campus, saying in a statement that the committee had less money than in previous years to allocate to student groups and organizations.
“Based on the information we have, the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee cut funding to several organizations this spring; the Daily Helmsman was not singled out or treated any differently from any other organization. Since that is the case, we see no legal issues resulting from the committee’s decisions,” the university said in a statement.
Members of the committee expressed their criticisms of the newspaper’s coverage during the committee’s deliberations. In one case, members of the Student Government Association questioned why the newspaper failed to cover a speech on campus by former presidential candidates Fred Thompson and Howard Dean.
“We’re looking at content in the sense of, this fee is to be used for student activities. And the Helmsman is not promoting student activities,” said former SGA President Tyler DeWitt, who sat on the allocation committee. “We’re simply saying that some things should exist, and they’re not meeting the objectives of what the fee is for.”
The SGA has also been upset that the newspaper doesn’t print a regular calendar of campus events or doesn’t write about upcoming events early enough.
Dean of Students Steve Peterson said those comments about the content had nothing to do with the amount of money given to the student newspaper.
“That was brought up by the students in that meeting, but it didn’t reflect on our decision,” he said. “I can tell you (that) with absolute certainty. … It was not about content, what’s published in the paper.”
University counsel Sheri Lipman also denied that the newspaper’s coverage of allegations of two rapes that occurred on campus played any role in the decision to cut funds.
“There are no facts that support that conclusion,” Lipman said. “Be sure you have your facts before you print that. That would be an incredibly wrong thing for us to do as an institution.”
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com