The Arizona Desert Lamp

Boo, Campus-Wide Education! Hooray, Protectionism!

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 25 November 2008

USA TodayThat’s the message of today’s opinion board editorial, decrying the Collegiate Readership Program sponsored by Sen. Emily Fritze.

First, let’s start with opinion’s absurd assertion of “subsidizing” USA Today:

Consider the fact that the Arizona Daily Wildcat doesn’t receive a single penny from the university; in fact, it pays a fee in order to be housed on campus. Consider the fact that the UA is so strapped for funding that it’s already being forced to raise tuition. Where’s the fairness in asking the UA to subsidize the world’s biggest newspaper company out of its students’ pockets?

It would be profoundly absurd for the UA to give a major corporation what amounts to a free ride on our campus. It would be like paying the Coca-Cola Company a fee for the privilege of letting them distribute Coke.

No, it would not be like that at all. I would hope that no one is expecting USA Today to start raining down free papers like it’s pro-American propaganda in Iraq. The fee proposed allows for these papers to be provided relatively free to UA students — take the total cost of the program, and divide it by ~37,000 students. The program in Nebraska costs $5 per student, which is a damn good deal for a full nine-months’ subscription of any paper. The CatCard swipe is merely to ensure that the papers aren’t being taken by random visitors, not to charge a fee each time a paper is taken.

Also, the program would be funded (as currently proposed) through the Student Affairs Fee, a fact that the board recognizes but seems to ignore. In fact, the program could have a net zero budgetary effect, if some of the other SAF programs have their funding from the fee reduced or eliminated. If you really think that every program currently funded by the SAF is worth more than a wide distribution of national newspapers, then I suppose you’d be justified in opposing this new cost.

As far as the Wildcat “paying a fee” to be housed on campus goes, I believe that’s called rent. USA Today is not taking up any Union offices, nor charging anything but the papers that are provided to college students at a discounted price (in an attempt, I’ll freely admit, to get subscriptions from these same students five or ten years down the road).

Of course, USA Today doesn’t have the option of just giving the newspapers away. That would violate the rules under which paid newspapers are audited. But we shouldn’t have any illusions about their motives. Counting campus distribution as circulation allows them to inflate their readership numbers, which is good for advertising.

And what of it? I’m perfectly willing to exchange increased advertising dollars for a free paper with my coffee before class. This boogey-man of “Big Newspaper” rings more than a bit false when you see numbers like these.

Yet after all this dancing, the Wildcat gets to the point:

The USA Today readership program has measurably harmed other student newspapers around the nation. “Our circulation for the first week of the spring 2005 semester was the lowest in my career here,” the general manager of The Daily Collegian, Penn State University’s student newspaper, told Purdue University’s The Exponent after Penn State introduced the USA Today program on its campus.

This, folks, is what we call rent-seeking. Ultimately, the paper is worried about itself and its distribution, not the overall well-being of the student body. The Wildcat humbly describes itself as the “UA students’ most important vehicle for ‘sharing ideas’ and ‘examining diverse points of views,'” but it’s ludicrous to act as though the paltry national/international coverage provides enough information for a college student to be informed.

Going back to the previously cited Nebraska example (source here), it’s worth considering what actually happened with the program:

The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska hoped the USA Today Collegiate Readership Program would be successful in its first semester on the UNL campus.

But they had no idea it would be the second-most popular college readership program in the nation — oh, and go $68,565 over budget.

“This program is a victim of its own success,” said Daryl Swanson, Nebraska Unions director. “Since the program was new, we had no track record to go by when we established the budget — we had no idea how many papers would need to be delivered each day.”

Swanson said an average of 6,119 newspapers are delivered each day, a number determined by USA Today distributors depending on the day of the week, the current news and even the weather.

Choosing between this outcome and no papers at all, I’ll certainly stick with the former. Ultimately, the more media sources on campus, the better off the UA campus is — even if the Wildcat takes a few lumps. Two modest proposals — cut the cartoons, and never publish WildLife as a stand-alone, colored section again.


Incidentally, I’ve noticed that most of these readership programs also include the New York Times, a paper that is a definite step up in terms of quality. Any chance we could get them on board?


10 Responses

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  1. Emily Fritze said, on 25 November 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks for your practical analysis. I hope that others realize the benefits of the program vs. the corporate aspect to it. To answer your question, I am in full support of the New York Times over USA Today. I am in the process of checking if we would have the option of substituting USA Today with the New York Times, ( or adding it) while still using the USA Today Collegiate Readership Program. However, the New York Times program is not as extensive,organized, and legitimate as the USA Today Program. That is why I chose to work with USA Today. If you or anyone else have any questions regarding the program, please let me know.

    Emily Fritze

  2. mark woodhams said, on 25 November 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Actually the “fee” the Wildcat pays the university is not rent. Yes, the Wildcat does pay rent too (in reality it’s debt service on the paper’s quarters in the Park Union) — about $60,000 a year plus utilities. The “fee” — presumably the one referred to in the editorial — is the administrative service charge levied by the UA on the Wildcat and other auxiliaries. Last year it was over $90,000. All told, the Wildcat returned more than $150,000 to the UA last year. And, of course, did not receive a penny in subsidy or fee — and I don’t think anyone has ever really whined about that. It’s what helps insure a measure of independence. And every student on campus gets a copy of the Wildcat — if they want — at no charge to anyone, anywhere 160 times a year.

    That is probably the key sticking point for the college newspaper industry with regard to the readership program (at least for those college papers that are entirely independent financially, and there aren’t many) — that the Wildcat gets nothing and gives everything back for free, even headaches. Consider student opportunity. The Wildcat has a student payroll of about $350,000 — the paper pays students (maybe not much!), gives them jobs on campus, and provides pre-career and co-curricular experiences, at no cost to the UA. Many Wildcat alumni — who got their starts on the paper — have gone on to successful careers and readily credit the Wildcat experience as pivotal. So in addition to putting out a daily paper that (as often as not) provides some news and entertainment for the campus, the Wildcat gives 150 students every semester a job and some exposure to the newspaper biz. At no cost to the UA. In fact for that privilege the Wildcat pays the university an administrative service fee.

    Now comes USA Today with a plan to provide newspapers for students but they can’t do it for free because of paid-circulation auditing rules (they are never very transparent about that). So student fees — none of which go to the Wildcat — will now go to a large media company. Which has no obligation to give back to the UA. You know — how about a couple of scholarships for journalism students? Or a donation to the Daily Wildcat development fund?

    So it’s really kind of a fairness issue. The program apparently has hurt readership elsewhere. I don’t know if that would be the case here. And it kind of boggles the mind, doesn’t it, that the little ol’ Wildcat receives no subsidy and pays $150,000 in various fees, while USA Today will receive a subsidy and pay nothing. That’s how you level the playing field, I guess. What a country!

  3. Evan Lisull said, on 25 November 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Mr. Woodhams, I agree that dismissing these costs “rent” is a bit glib. Furthermore, as a Wildcat alumni, I recognize that the Wildcat is an incredibly important campus institution– without my opinions gig in 06-07, this site would not exist.

    Excuse my ignorance, but what IS this “administrative service charge?” It sounds like the worst of bureaucratese, and comes with a pretty hefty price tag. What services does this fee provide for? The only reason I ask is that I suspect that the fee, rather than the Readership Program, is the issue here.

    I’m skeptical about the claims that this program will lead to a decline in the quality of the paper. Looking at PSU’s Daily Collegian, the site is, to be frank, cleaner and more user friendly than our own, and continues to publish on a wide variety of subjects. If the Wildcat ends up looking more like the Collegian, then that alone is justification for the program.

    As far as ‘giving back to the UA’ goes, the providing of papers at an extremely discounted rate, and furthermore not charging for papers that are not taken, is giving back enough, in my view.

    The best option is that the program provides a donation to the Wildcat in order to be instituted; the worst is that the program is denied to the student body. Even if it is a suboptimal outcome, I’d rather UA students have more sources of information, rather than less.

  4. mattstyer said, on 25 November 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Whoa whoa whoa – having a prettier paper will justify the blatant unfairness and a likely lowering of the opportunities (I imagine Wildcat circulation would decrease) Mark Woodhams describes? I’ve got to vehemently disagree with you again here, Evan. Why the pass on corporate subsidy? Let ’em do whatever they want as long as they’re benevolent!

    Nevermind that the students have no say on whether they want this, and that USA Today is a pretty awful paper. And on your options – you seem to put the nice sugarcoated one that’s not gonna happen as the best option, lending it an air of possibility, and oppose it with the program not happening at all. It will likely happen just as described, and as described, it seems to me like bullshit.

    To me, there is a distinct difference between letting competition (“more sources”) work things out, and putting your resources into making better what you’ve got. Why not try and work for getting the Wildcat that $5 student fee to make it a better newspaper, something for the community, and not just hand it off to some distant corporation that we’re here to make money for?

  5. Emily said, on 25 November 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Just to clarify:
    Student DO have a say in this. There will be a four week pilot program at absolutely no cost for the university. Surveys with a sample of 1500 students from a large demographic will be taken regarding the program and newspaper. From there, ASUA and the Collegiate Readership Program will proceed, and the students can formulate real opinions after seeing the results.

    I do enjoy the Wildcat, however, there is not a huge focus on national and international news. Therefore, this is a way to provide that resource. To state the obvious, if the Wildcat really wanted money from the students/university fees to provide that national news, they would not be independent anymore.

    In case you wanted to know, and I am sure it doesn’t help, USA Today plans to put back money into the Wildcat by purchasing adds in the paper. So, in that sense, it is supporting the student newspaper. Furthermore, there is not enough evidence that the readership of the Wildcat will decrease because of this program. The Penn State example is not valid considering their plan is the biggest in the nation, enormously extensive and visible all over the campus with three different newspapers. That is not what we are looking at. We would like to start small and expand if the program proves itself. IF APPROVED, the fee would only cover the program for one year. If it didn’t prove itself, it would have to be renewed and submit a new proposal to the Student Affairs Fee board. In fact, there is evidence that providing newspapers can actually stimulate readership in other newspapers, as students become accustomed to picking up paper news.

    After the pilot program, a proposal would be submitted to the Student Affairs Fee Board. They would have to approve the money for the program to be implemented. I want to stress, THIS IS NOT A NEW FEE. It would be competitive to get a portion of this fee for this program. Also, the program will not necessarily be 5 dollars per student. The price is debatable, with a “capped fee” that guarantees only a certain amount of papers dispersed evenly throughout the year.

    I understand the concerns within the Wildcat, however, I suggest that any students who are cynical bout the program ask questions before they make assumptions. The Wildcat does not understand all aspects of the program and a lot are explainable. I think this blog is a great way to create that dialogue. So ask away!

  6. A. Hill said, on 26 November 2008 at 11:36 am

    Personally, I think it makes a great deal more sense to for students to get their national and international news from the internet, like most of us already do, rather than wasting student money on a major (and, frankly, crappy) paper like USA Today. I can’t imagine that anyone capable of being admitted to a university would be at a loss for how to obtain national news if a copy of USA Today were not put directly in front of their face.

    The Wildcat serves a specific need: to provide students with campus-related news. It does not attempt, and is not really meant to attempt, to cover national and international issues the way a major paper would. To criticize it for this, as proponents of the USA Today program seem to be doing, would be like criticizing a grocery store for not selling enough books. The Wildcat is a good paper — even despite its decline in recent years, it is still quite good in comparison to other college newspapers. But will a decent little rag like that still get the readership it deserves — and will students still have the same opportunity to acquire real journalistic experience — if you’ve got stacks of free USA Todays next to it? I’m not so optimistic.

    Considering the fairly aggressive role ASUA took on in the recent cartoon fracas, I have to wonder whether reducing the Wildcat to a place of insignificance on campus isn’t one of the desired outcomes of this program.

    Incidentally, why just a survey and not a sudent body-wide vote on whether or not to implement this?

  7. Emily said, on 26 November 2008 at 3:43 pm

    – Yes, internet seems easy, free, and ideal. However, it has been shown that students are more likely to read a newspaper if they have direct accessibility to it through print. Also, I would think that the Wildcat and journalism students would appreciate the encouragement of reading print. My dad is in journalism, so I know first hand that print is going out of style. Programs like this only encourage students to read print newspapers. Of course it seems like most students read newspapers. However, you would be surprised. Just because some may be informed students does not mean all of the 37,000 students are. Plus, this is an almost free opportunity for those people who already read the newspaper!
    – Yes, USA TODAY is not my first pick either. Once again, we are looking in to getting a different national newspaper as the main newspaper on campus. It is still in the works.
    – Also, I never claimed that the Wildcat should be providing more national news. That is exactly my point! That is not their job. Why not provide that resource? AND since they do not provide national news, why would students want to stop reading about the campus news if they are two different things?
    -ASUA is in no way shape or form trying to “reduce the Wildcat to a place of insignificance.” This program has been in discussion since last year, WAY BEFORE the comic. I can stand as a rep of ASUA and say that although I don’t always agree with the Wildcat, I appreciate them. They do a great job of giving a different perspective, and keeping student government accountable. We would rather have a news source that kept us on our toes, than one that never questioned anything.
    – A student body vote is just not possible. There is no way to make everyone take a survey, especially not the entire school. The sample size is already very significant and we are pushing for more. Also, after that survey, it STILL won’t be approved. It will still have to get approved by the Student Affairs Board and Administration. They will decide if the student voice is heard. However, I could look to see if we could have a vote during ASUA elections, with the candidates and other proposals. Thanks for the questions.

  8. […] Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on January 7th, 2009 Evan’s been gung-ho about USA Today’s Collegiate Readership Program since ASUA Sen. Emily Fritze proposed it […]

  9. […] read an argument for the proposed Readership Program, go here. For an argument against it, read here. I’ve soured enough since originally writing my piece […]

  10. […] we’ve been here before. The proposal contains the numbers on the pilot program, which should be taken […]

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