On-campus media deserve financial independence from student governments

When The Beacon’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Van Buskirk stepped before the Student Government Association last week to present an amendment, he cited the Constitution’s first amendment in his argument for a free and independent press—a vital component of democracy. In our opinion, the press is essential in holding federal, state, and local officials accountable for their actions. It serves as a watchdog for the public, shining a light on the darkest crevices of government. 

In a similar vein, one aspect of The Beacon’s role at Emerson is to report on the student government. For the past 73 years, our paper has attempted to shine a light on an important part of our community— the governance of organizations and political dealings within SGA. For most of The Beacon’s existence, our funding has been guaranteed as a percentage directly from the student activities fee, with the hopes of minimizing any conflict between SGA and the student paper. While we were still subject to Financial Advisory Board policies, the paper could rest easily knowing that our funding was guaranteed.

In 2011, this changed after SGA repealed constitutional language allowing for our guaranteed percentage funding. The paper was subject to the annual budgetary request process and increased scrutiny by SGA.

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This year, our paper’s editors brought forth an amendment to SGA’s constitution to the newsroom that proposed a clean split from the student government. In short, The Beacon would once again receive a percentage funding and remove itself from the control of the SGA treasury by creating a board of directors that would promulgate its own spending rules. 

The Beacon’s budget would still come from the student activities fee, and at the end of the day the paper would still be subject to collegiate oversight. This would mean that The Beacon would still be subject to Emerson’s financial policies but not the student government’s. 

At our introductory meetings to The Beacon, we tell new students that if they want to join our paper, they cannot run for SGA— and every year we see the looks of confusion from new students who are surprised that we receive money from an institution we report on. It introduces a perceived bias that we want to eliminate, the same way that The Washington Post is perceived as biased for receiving their funding from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. 

While SGA allowed time for top editors to present the amendment to the joint session, we are disappointed that student politicians did not share our urgency to pass this legislation.  We understand that it would be a difficult process and would require significant work from both sides. Even though SGA members cited state tax law violations as their reasoning, they could not point to the specific language prohibiting our amendment from proceeding. 

And we know our request for independence isn’t unique. In 2008, Northeastern University fought to become unaffiliated with its administration. Since then, they’ve retained full control of their newspaper’s content and distribution. The staff also elected to change the name of the paper from the Northeastern News to the Huntington News to celebrate.

Last year alone, students at the Southern Methodist University launched a “Save Student Newsrooms” campaign. The initiative calls on student newsrooms nationwide to fight for their financial and editorial independence, according to the campaign website. Over 100 publications participate in the program. 

Our desire to separate from SGA does not come from an intention to spite them or other organizations on campus; it comes from our desire to function as a truly financially independent news organization that does not need to fear our funding being cut from semester to semester. 

Furthermore, The Beacon would support any other on-campus media organization who covers on-campus issues and SGA to propose a similar amendment. It is important to create an environment where an independent and free press can operate without financial restriction. 

SGA did offer a counterproposal to guarantee The Beacon four percent of the money collected from the student activity fees and allow us to receive further funding through the Annual Budget Request process. However, this counter offer completely dismissed the underlying reason for coming before the joint session. Even if we have a guaranteed percentage funding with additional revenue acquired through Annual Budget Request, we are still subject to SGA treasury policy—creating the exact opposite of a free and independent press. 

We know our view on the importance of student media may be biased, but we feel the newspaper’s function in our small college is integral. We spend our weeknights working hard to put out content because we believe in holding this institution accountable and reporting on the work our students do. 

The Beacon is not trying to diminish the work of other organizations covering campus culture or events who are funded by the student government. Again, we advocate that they join us in the pursuit of financial independence. We just want to be able to oversee the money that goes in and out of our account from the student activities fee and ad revenue. Only then can we effectively trail the actions of our administration and SGA with complete editorial independence.

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