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Alternative Voices on Campus | The Nation

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Alternative Voices on Campus

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Without solid support from the university, the need for outside support becomes critical. While the conservative Collegiate Network alone claims to spend $1 million a year on programs related to campus publications, progressive publications can find themselves forced to cut their budgets or unable to start up. When asked to identify the biggest challenge for North Carolina's Boiling Point, editor Rachael Young did not hesitate: "Funding...we haven't really come up with a lot; there's not a lot of money out there for [us]." And there are few funding options. Fundraising events and door-to-door soliciting provide only minor sums of money, and subscriptions do not cover overhead for even the most well-established newspapers. Many American publications depend on advertising to cover production costs, but some alternative papers adhere to strict anticorporate views. Harish Bhandari of the X at the University of California, Berkeley, argues, "We're a public institution, and I don't see the place for ads on the campus." Even if an alternative paper welcomes ads, many students are unable to solicit effectively in their spare time.

See our list of vibrant alternative student publications: Ten Papers We Like.

About the Author

Timothy Waligore
Timothy Waligore, the founding editor of the Dartmouth Free Press, was a Nation intern in the summer of 2002 and is now...
Emma Ruby-Sachs
Emma Ruby-Sachs, a student at Wesleyan University, was a Nation intern for summer 2002.

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In cases where funding is available, progressive papers are often victims of neglect. While the energy from progressive students is there, it is not well channeled by a strong institutionalized network. Starting any type of campus publication requires learning the technicalities of layout, printing and finance, and the nuts and bolts of putting together a paper. Everything from deciding editorial policy to publication format and layout takes time to develop. Student journalists are often reinventing the wheel. While many papers are founded by an energetic group, the paper's zeal often dies once they graduate.

Conservative campus papers are also affected by these problems, but they have a strong network to maintain continuity and help give their papers some independence from the college. The Collegiate Network provides direct grants to publications and a toll-free advice hotline. The Leadership Institute offers advice to conservative papers on how to become nonprofit groups independent from the college, and it runs seminars on finding advertisers and raising funds from sympathetic alumni. Conservative students nationwide are also linked through conferences run by alumni to train a new generation of campus journalists, who often go on to positions of power, where they affect the larger public discourse.

Progressives have tried to establish their own network of campus papers, but with much less success. In 1987 the Center for National Policy, a progressive, Washington-based think tank, was approached by a group of student journalists with a request for help. The result was a conference of student journalists that year, but subsequent fundraising was disappointing. The CNP managed to raise only $10,000 to fund twenty papers in 1988. In 1994 the Center for Campus Organizing started an alternative publication network and in a matter of weeks had fifty-five publications on its list. Later, when the CCO died, its Campus Alternative Journalism Project became part of the Independent Press Association, where it remains under the leadership of Brian Edwards-Tiekert, the first dedicated CAJP staff member. Today, the CAJP is a nationwide network that offers a website template, an online discussion forum, annual awards and an article exchange service; and answers questions and troubleshoots for its 102 active member publications.

A panel chair at a recent conservative foundation conference emphasized that you get "huge leverage for your dollars" in funding the war of ideas at all levels, but while conservative foundations have purchased storefront property in the marketplace of ideas, most foundations regarded as progressive or liberal simply are not interested in aiding student newspapers. Despite what is often perceived as a shortage of funds on the left, these foundations do have comparable resources but devote little of it to media and broad-based ideological movements. Some of these foundations are actually rather moderate and try not to be explicitly political. Others are engaged in activist work on specific issues. Interviews with a number of foundation officials revealed that many more progressive foundations regard their main responsibility as serving constituencies directly affected by bad policy. Soya Harris, grants manager for A Territory Resource (ATR), a public foundation that supports activist, community-based organizations working for social, economic and environmental justice in the Northwest, explained, "Campus organizing can be very insular and not connected to communities around the campus.... We work with people who need to build power for themselves first."

Funding grassroots organizing is important, but the foundation community cannot afford to ignore the war of ideas, or we will lose it [see Michael H. Shuman, "Why Do Progressive Foundations Give Too Little to Too Many?" January 12/19, 1998].

If the progressive movement hopes to counter the shift to the right in op-ed columns, talk-radio, cable TV and the Internet, it must work to shape the broader public discourse, a discourse that begins on college campuses. According to Edwards-Tiekert, student publications may start up in reaction to a single cause, but their existence helps to "develop future thinkers." The process of publishing a paper develops these students' ideas, making them more effective in their involvement in public affairs.

In the last presidential election, 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-old voters voted Republican. The right is pumping millions of dollars into swaying young people to its side, and its influence is growing. But the student movement has a progressive tradition. Ignoring that tradition and the papers it produces will encourage the march to the right, while supporting them can lead to a new generation dedicated to progressive politics.

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