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Amid budget woes, will student fees save Nevada college documents? – The Nevada Independent

Once a week, the Scarlet and Gray Free Press it prints between 500 and 800 copies spread throughout UNLV’s Las Vegas campus. Once a week, the editor of the student newspaper, Vanessa Marie Booth, brings those copies to the newsstands herself in an electric golf cart.

With no distribution staff, Booth said it’s a job he doesn’t mind doing, even if it adds extra strain to a full-time student’s workload. But a month ago, he told her, that golf cart, older than most college students at 25, broke down.

“We thought, ‘How are we going to get our news across campus?’” Booth said, referring to the stacks of new bound newsprint. “They are very heavy and I would basically have to push the golf cart with my bare hands. Going up a hill. That was not a fun experience.”

The car was later repaired to the tune of $800. But it was just the latest in a series of budget problems for a newspaper with $6,000 allocated for an operating budget.

Booth said staff have been unable to purchase new office printers since 2015. High printing costs have led to page outages and circulation drops. Phone lines and web hosting collide with staff stipend payments, leaving students, many of whom rely on articles in student newspapers to secure professional internships, underpaid and in the lurch.

“When we got back in person [from COVID], we were unable to operate at full capacity,” Booth said. “We had a lot of students working for us for free that we just couldn’t hire because we didn’t have enough positions. We have many positions that we have just discontinued or suspended due to financial stress.”

the Scarlet And Gray Free Press, formerly the Rebel Yell, has been around since before UNLV was UNLV, publishing its first issue for the fledgling University of Southern Nevada in 1955. Like student newspapers across the country, the outlet has functioned as a niche in the journalism landscape of the city, a test bed for emerging writers and reporters closer than any other. another outlet into the lives of tens of thousands of college students.

With that proximity, the scarlet and gray he has tracked the turmoil within student government (the university president resigned after a retreat last month), the push to improve campus parking (a perennial controversy for any student with a car), and unruly campus cats.

But 67 years later, the newspaper is one of many student-run university outlets that has seen a reliable mainstay of ad revenue crumble. After years of shrinking budgets, the losses have left open questions about how the paper could continue.

Today’s existential crisis is not the first for the newspaper. Most notably, the outlet was embroiled in a brief budget dispute in 2016 after university funding was slashed, amid a broader debate over changing a name: Rebel Yell —which is still implicitly tied to the Confederate imagery common to the founding of the university.

Later, the newly appointed scarlet and gray saw its printing costs subsidized through a free printing agreement with the Las Vegas Review Magazine, plus $20,000 in annual funding from the state’s largest metropolitan newspaper. In total, the budget amounted to between $60,000 and $80,000 per year, with the remainder being funded through the university’s student life funding committee.

But in recent years, college funding has continued to decline sharply. The funding committee awarded $100,000 in 2016, but that monetary allocation was first reduced to $60,000 and then again to $40,000. Then, on short notice, the free print deal disappeared last winter as well.

“We had to find $20,000 in two weeks,” Booth said.

Enter: the student rate.

Amid budget woes, will student fees save Nevada college documents? – The Nevada Independent
A stack of scarlet and gray sits on the end of a desk in the student newspaper office at UNLV on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

On Friday, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) regents will vote on a fee of $0.20 per credit hour for UNLV students designed to fully fund the scarlet and grey. Multiplied by the credit loads of more than 29,000 students, it is expected to generate annual net income of nearly $140,000, roughly double the current budget.

The proposal, which has been nearly 12 months in the making, according to Booth, has the support not only of advocates in the student press, but also of UNLV’s undergraduate student government, the graduate student association and top administrators. .

Booth and others have characterized the move as a drive toward long-term financial solvency, a permanent funding solution with no ties to the ebbs and flows of advertising, student representatives, and individual university administrations.

“There are other fees: Students pay hundreds of dollars in fees each semester,” Booth said. “And to pay 20 cents per credit hour, I don’t think that’s a very high price to pay for something that important.”

Booth has now expanded his lobbying efforts to include individual regents as well. But it’s not just those at UNLV who are waiting with bated breath to see how the board might vote.

A push beyond UNLV

The use of student fees for credit to fund student journalism is not new, with clear momentum emerging in the last decade, both in the wake of the Great Recession and, by extension, the rapid decline in print advertising revenue.

The student media industry mirrored the broader collapse of newspaper journalism. Between 2008 and 2018, the industry’s ad revenue fell 62 percent, according to the Pew Research Center, while employment in print newsrooms fell by half.

But the use of such fees would be novel in Nevada, where the two largest student newspapers UNLV and UNR have long relied solely on advertising in an attempt to keep university administrators and student government at bay. Editorial decision making.

For the past decade, the two university newspapers, both published weekly and, until recently, both print and online, have felt the financial pressure of the collapse of the print business model. A Nevada sagebrush At UNR, for example, where ad dollars, rather than university funds, have long propped up operations, the budget cuts have become even more dire.

Print ads, in particular, have long commanded much higher rates from local advertisers than their online counterparts, a dynamic that accelerated a budget crisis when the Sagebrush — also largely without a direct funding relationship with student government or the university’s journalism school — stopped printing hard numbers after its print shop closed amid the pandemic. The situation forced it to change to an online-only publication for the first time in its almost 130-year history.

Now, the newspaper operates with a skeleton staff of volunteer writers, with a budget of only a fraction of its former glory. According to Mike Higdon, a Sagebrush alumni who have most recently worked to help raise funds as part of the “Save the Sagebrush” initiative, the sagebrush the budget once peaked at $150,000 in ad sales alone in the late 2000s.

Today, the newspaper’s editor, Emerson Drewes, said the annual budget is only $30,000, with another $62,000 in reserves.

“The money we have we need so much”, Sagebrush said publisher Emerson Drewes. “If we don’t raise enough money, we’ll be gone in two years.”

And while the UNLV student fee push has already come before the Board of Regents, a similar push is also underway at UNR that, if realized, could fund not only a newspaper, but also a student radio station, a magazine, and a separate literary magazine.

That push is likely months away from a vote before the regents, as the Sagebrush and other student media advocates at UNR are seeking funding from undergraduate student government, which is no guarantee, amid an often contentious relationship between student representatives and the newspaper that covers them.

But looking at how the regents will respond to a student fee at UNLV, Drewes said the vote “means everything.”

“If they don’t approve UNLV, what does this mean for us?” she said.

But if the regents give the rates all clear? “This will definitely be a shining light of hope,” Drewes said.

In case of failing the rate, either by the scarlet and gray or eventually by Sagebrush, it’s unclear what might happen next, especially as the digital advertising environment remains uneven and staffing levels remain minimal.

“For anyone who says ‘go find a new advertising opportunity, go find a new strategy,’ I urge you to help us,” Drewes said. “We can’t really spend much more manpower than we already have.”

Editor’s Note: This story was edited by assistant editors Michelle Rindels and Jackie Valley. Editor Elizabeth Thompson was not involved in the editing process because she provided strategic advice to The Nevada Sagebrush. Additionally, reporter Jacob Solis was editor of The Nevada Sagebrush.