Currently on the table for the Wesleyan Student Assembly is Resolution X.38, or “Resolution Increasing Readership Numbers and Work Study Funding for Publications.” The resolution, introduced on Oct. 4 by Alex Garcia ’17, would reduce The Argus’ yearly printing budget by 57 percent, or from $30,000 a year to $13,000 and use the funds taken to create 20 work study positions for various student publications on campus. It is likely that many details of this resolution will be voted on by members of the WSA this Sunday, Oct. 18, at the Senate meeting. We believe this resolution will prove ineffective and inhibit The Argus’ ability to increase inclusivity. We urge the members of the WSA to vote against its passage, and we call upon students to reconsider the half-conceived changes it proposes.
If the resolution is passed, the student body will vote on which publications it regards as most deserving of work study positions. As the resolution reads, “Work-Study positions and Facebook boosted post credits will be allocated based on publication popularity.” The publications that come in first and second place in the vote will each receive seven work study positions and $800 to be used toward Facebook ad credit or website upgrades. The third- and fourth-place publications will each receive three work study positions and $200 to be used toward Facebook ad credit or website upgrades. Additionally, all student publications will be archived in Olin.
The Argus’s current budget of around $15,000 per semester is broken down as follows: $12,435.00 for printing money, $75.00 for office supplies, and $1,147.28 for our printer lease. The Argus typically prints each issue as 12 pages, 1000 copies, and with color on the front and back pages, at a total cost of $464.48 per issue. Reducing printing to 600 copies per issue, which would cut the current number by nearly half, would lower that to only $437.53. The vast majority of our printing money is used to create an offset printing plate for each issue of the newspaper, so cutting down the number of copies we print of each issue would lower our printing costs only marginally.
Currently, The Argus holds 72.2 percent of the funding allotted by the Student Budget Committee to student publications and receives more funding than Method Magazine, Aural Wes, The Ankh, and The Hermes do combined. However, producing two issues a week featuring approximately 20 articles each, The Argus prints more frequently and produces more written content each month than any other publication on campus. The Argus also spends significantly less money on each issue than the vast majority of publications on campus do. With 30 editors and over 110 staff writers, photographers, layout staff, and copy staff members, The Argus involves far more students than other publications and most student groups on campus.
While The Argus’ editorial and writer positions are voluntary, the newspaper currently offers nine paid positions to four layout employees (including a production manager), a head copy editor, a distribution manager, an advertising manager, a business manager, and a web editor. The students who hold these positions are paid minimum wage (or in the case of the distribution manager, $12.50 to compensate for gas) with funds from the revenue from our print advertisements rather than from money provided by the Student Budget Committee. In past years, the SBC paid some of the students who held these positions, but in the 2012-2013 academic year, it ceased to fund them. Despite the WSA’s decision to cut this funding and despite the occasional difficulty of producing sufficient advertising revenue to pay our student employees, offering paid positions has remained a priority for The Argus. We are devoted to providing students who are reliant on work study payment with opportunities to join our community and gain experience working in media.
Unfortunately, the resolution may affect the number of paid positions we can offer. If forced to reduce the number of print issues we produce each semester, we would be unable to provide the job opportunities in layout and distribution that we do now due to the loss of advertising funds and potentially, pages to design. In effect, if the resolution passes, even if The Argus is voted in the top two publications, we would be paying fewer students less than we currently are. Furthermore, if the WSA’s ultimate goal is to transform The Argus into an entirely digital publication, then many of these positions would be eradicated entirely. Our attachment to print goes beyond the sentimental (though the experience of reading a hard copy of a newspaper is undeniably valuable); it is a matter of providing students of all backgrounds with opportunities to learn first-hand about the process of creating print media. These positions offer some of the few regular opportunities on campus for design-oriented students to both learn and practice skills. Furthermore, as a newspaper, the end result of printing with a hard deadline is vital because it forces the paper to remain at the pulse of events on and around campus. No other campus publication covers events, student groups, or news as consistently as The Argus does.
While we share the WSA’s commitment to making the Argus staff more representative of Wesleyan’s student body, we see some major oversights in the proposed resolution. The first is its conflation of socioeconomic and racial diversity; while the creation of work study positions would provide writers with opportunities to be paid for their work, there is no way to guarantee that these writers will be students of color. Secondly, while the resolution promises to pay writers, it does not take into account The Argus’ editorial positions. Section editors work approximately 10 hours a week and editors-in-chief approximately 25, more time than the SBC can afford to compensate students for working. This means that the writers on the WSA’s work study program would be unable to accept promotion offers that would place them in leadership roles and allow them to become more involved members of The Argus. Our editorial staff is largely white; in order to make our leaders more representative of the community we aim to represent, the structural changes implemented need to be thought out more thoroughly.
Lastly, we take issue with how the resolution measures the importance of campus publications. It will rely on students’ votes rather than taking into account online traffic, the amount of content produced by each organization, and the number of students involved in each group. This ignores the vital differences between the publications involved. As essential as literary magazines, specialty newspapers, and zines are to our community, they do not require the same funds as a regular newspaper that publishes 40-50 articles per week.
If we have learned anything from our conversations with the student body in the past month, it is precisely how charged, complicated, and multidimensional issues of race and representation are on this campus and in this country. As it stands, the resolution simply doesn’t address the core of these issues. There is no easy solution, but we’ve started to confront some of The Argus’ long-standing obstacles by executing small but meaningful changes. Our editorial staff recently participated in SALD-sponsored Social Justice Education training, and we are in the process of developing a new Editor of Equity and Inclusion position, as well as new outreach programs. These initiatives can’t transform The Argus right away, but transformation takes time. This is where the resolution fails: It is reactionary and therefore disregards its broader implications. Issues of race, representation, and publication deserve careful attention, and creating a course of action to address them merits more consideration than we have given them. We believe that these changes can only be achieved through collaboration between The Argus and the student body, rather than government-imposed restrictions. Wesleyan is a lively and multifaceted community. If anything, this newspaper could best serve it by publishing more articles on more areas of student life, not fewer.