Update: On Wednesday, April 8 the University of Kansas’s Student Senate voted down a proposed cut to the student newspaper. The Senate approved a measure that would move the $1.70 newspaper portion of the $4 media fee to be included in the Newspaper Readership Program, which would allow for less conflict of interest. Student Body President Mason Heilman, who proposed the cut, stood by his proposal but said that he would not veto the senate’s decision.
Kansas University’s Student Senate President Mason Heilman wants to cut funding to the student newspaper because he has "had a problem" with the Senate’s relationship to the paper "for a long time." Heilman questions the paper’s ability to objectively cover the Senate, which allocates student organization funds. "To me, this is one of the most inappropriate relationships Student Senate has with any other outside group," Heilman said.
In an editorial, The Daily Kansan’s Editor-in-Chief Stephen Montemayor called the decision misguided because the Senate only allocates the funds, while the students are the ones who pay them. Heilman wants to cut $1.70 from the $4 student media fee, which pays newspaper staff salaries and subsidizes a free copy of the daily paper for all members of the student body.
It’s unreasonable for Heilman to assert that the newspaper’s relationship with the student government is inappropriate just because he is personally bothered by it. After all, The Kansan was fair and balanced in its coverage of the Senate meetings that covered the proposed cuts.
Moreover, The Kansan has won the Associated Press’s Newspaper Pacemaker Award six times and was nominated twice since 1993. The award judges student newspapers on their "coverage and content, quality of writing and reporting [and] evidence of in-depth reporting."
Heilman likened the financial relationship between the paper and the student Senate to the federal government funding The New York Times and then expecting unbiased coverage of Congress. But Heilman’s comparison is both inapplicable to university news media and factually false.
Since the founding of the United States, the government has funded the fourth estate with subsidies, tax breaks and through private corporations, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Heilman has presumably heard of NPR and PBS, maybe even the BBC in England and the CBC in Canada. In comparison to other countries with similar GDPs, the US spends significantly less money on journalism, approximately $1.35 per capita compared to Canada, Australia and Germany’s $25, Britain’s $80 and Denmark and Finland’s $100.
Spending cuts by a university make even less sense when you consider the crisis that American journalism is currently facing and recent calls for government funding of investigative and local journalism. The Columbia Journalism Review, several university journalism research centers and Nation contributors John Nichols and Bob McChesney, who recently published The Life and Death of American Journalism, all argue for increased and new government funding for the industry, an argument that seems to be catching on across the political spectrum.