University of California

Student government referendum could mean life or death for The Highlander newspaper

Perhaps the only time where the campus becomes aware of student government is during the infamous elections season, where hopefuls spend three weeks painstakingly campaigning for the coveted seats within the Senate chambers. While several students at the University of California, Riverside view elections with dread and dismay, for The Highlander, participation during elections week is a matter of survival.

As fewer news publications continue to publish in print editions, the cost of printing physical copies of the paper have increased dramatically. Most papers operate primarily online, driving up costs for news sources that continue to maintain both a physical and online presence. Having a print edition of the newspaper gives students the opportunity to learn about layout, design and formatting in preparation for future careers within the media industry, something that a strictly online publication cannot provide.

In response to the increased financial hardships, the Highlander Revitalization Referendum has been proposed. The referendum, if successful, will increase The Highlander student fee by $2.00 every quarter, doubling the fees from the original $2/quarter fee.

If the referendum does not pass, however, The Highlander is likely to go out of print in a year, at most two years with drastic operating cuts.

“What we’re being threatened with is an increasingly obsolete traditional media landscape,” explains Myles Andrews-Duve, the editor in chief of The Highlander. “As an independent newspaper, our main sources of funding are from advertisement sales and student fees. Considering the landscape as it is, the decline in ad sales over the last four years has led to a critical situation for us.”

Although the fee might seem drastic to some, Thomas John Holguin, who documents campus life as a staff photographer for The Highlander through his Instagram (@followthomas), views the fee increase in a positive light.

“Honestly, it’s a pretty expensive process to keep pushing forward,” he says. “…It’s important to document what happens on campus and being able to have it as a physical means of production by the students.”

For the past 63 years, The Highlander has served as the campus’s primary independent news source, producing and distributing print copies every week. The newspaper covers current national, statewide and local affairs, provides entertainment reviews, and even includes recipes for students to try. Free from the reigns of administrative oversight, the newspaper is known for their consistency in publishing a wide spectrum of student viewpoints and sparking insightful conversations around the campus community. Since the campus does not offer a journalism program, the newspaper has been the only source of substantive work experience for aspiring media moguls.

“There is nothing more powerful than a platform that allows you to speak your mind without fear,” explains Evan Ismail, a first year student and assistant news editor of The Highlander.

This is not the first time a referendum has been proposed to alleviate The Highlander’s financial crisis. In the 2016 election, the Highlander Newspaper Reformation Referendum was placed on the ballot. It failed, with 2,412 votes against the referendum and 1,675 against its passage.

Additionally, UC Riverside is not the only campus in the UC system whose newspapers responded to the increasing pressures for survival as a print publication.

This year, New University, the official independent publication for the University of California, Irvine introduced the “Measure U” referendum. In response to increasing costs, the referendum would raise the student fee from 99 cents to $3 a quarter, in order to provide for the sustainability of the paper. Similar to The Highlander, without increased funding, the paper is in danger of losing its existence as a print newspaper, and possibly altogether as a campus publication.

In 2013, the Daily Californian, who has been in circulation for over a century at Berkeley, scrambled to create a fundraising campaign following financial panic from a donor suddenly dropping out.

And finally, while UC Merced has a publication titled The Prodigy, the paper has not been updated since September 2016, and lacks the internal infrastructure to provide daily issues for the student body.

“Our platform to exercise our First Amendment rights are going out of business,” says Ismail. “We need to save our voices!”

Elections week takes place April 17-21 on www.elections.ucr.edu. UC Riverside undergraduates can vote online or in an official polling site on campus.

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