ESSAY: Former UC Davis newspaper editor on saving her journalism alma mater

Around this time last year, I was editor-in-chief of the UC Davis student newspaper. And I was telling everyone that we were going to die.

I cut The California Aggie’s weekly production from four days to one, slashed salaries and told the next editor that my actions would not save the paper. They would only buy some time for a more radical plan.

Now it’s all coming together. Last week, student-government leaders passed a bill that will put a fee referendum on the next campus ballot. If enough students vote “yes” in February, it will bill each undergrad $9.30 annually and generate roughly $300,000 to support the newspaper. Please note The Aggie is currently financially independent, and that respected student newspapers at UC Berkeley and UCLA also collect student fees.

Totally biased as I am, I support the plan. More details about The Aggie’s finances can be read in The Sacramento Bee, though it should be noted that the Bee reporter once applied to head the The Aggie and is, therefore, also totally biased.

Here are some contentious details: Money will be put aside to fund a full-time business position. I admit there is something ideologically disturbing about student fees paying the salary of a nonstudent, though it’s also done at some other UC campuses. There’s also no expiration date on the fee. It would really be saving The Aggie. Forever.

But who knows what the news media will look like in five or 10 years? Future student journalists should wrestle with that predicament and prepare for off-campus ambitions instead of indefinitely holding onto life support.

Critics have taken to Facebook to complain and campaign against the fee. Some points are fair. But it also isn’t fair to ask a group of students to work 30 hours per week for less than $1 per hour, as the newspaper editors do now. And it isn’t fair to let UC Davis’ 99-year-old newspaper wind up online only, run by student volunteers who produce little and learn even less. No more learning lab. No more accountability. No more public sphere.

Sadly, it’s too late to have these debates. Because if The Aggie’s fee doesn’t pass, the newspaper will very likely die later this year. Then, where will future SN&R reporters figure out how to write?

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