Continued readership program would benefit few

The USA Today College Readership Program, which began Dec. 3, is the first step toward a permanent program funded through Student Services Fees.

One of the main arguments used to support the program is that by pooling our money, students will receive a considerable discount off the newsstand prices of newspapers. USA Today has told the Minnesota Student Association it will request a maximum of $5 per semester per fees-paying student. To receive three newspapers – USA Today, the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press – daily for $5 seems like a bargain. However, the numbers mislead because the program is structured so the vast majority of students will be funding the reading of a few.

If the fees proposal is brought forth by MSA – which is currently under discussion – the 25,000 undergraduates taking six or more credits will be assessed the fee. Therefore, at $5 per student, the program will be funded with $125,000 per semester. USA Today also has specific prices for each paper that is read (we only pay for those papers that get picked up). The Pioneer Press will cost 17 cents, the Star Tribune and USA Today will each be 30 cents, at an average of a quarter per paper. (In reality, the price will be greater, because more people will read the Star Tribune and USA Today than the Pioneer Press, thus driving the average up.)

With $125,000 per semester, at a quarter per paper, the program will be able to support 500,000 papers per semester. Over the course of a 75-day semester plus five days of finals, the total papers available per day will be 6,250.

With funding maximized at $125,000 – fees cannot increase once they are distributed – the program can provide only 6,250 daily papers, even though approximately 25,000 students will be paying the fee. The numbers look worse when we consider that 6,250 represents the total number of papers, not of each of the three papers. There is nothing restricting one student from taking all three of the papers – this is part of the sales pitch. To provide each fees-paying student with each paper, the program would have to print 75,000 papers daily. To fully fund the potential demand, the cost to a student would be $60.

The readership program appears to save students a great deal because 100 percent of potential readers are funding the 8 percent that can actually get a paper. The desire to read the paper is not even part of the

equation. If the other 92 percent of students wanted to get a paper, they could not find it on campus, at least not under the readership program.

Not only will this program be unfair, it will violate the regents’ policy concerning Student Services Fees. Section II, Subdivision 5 of the policy reads, “Fee-supported programs, activities, and services must be available to all students assessed the fee.” This is why all organizations funded by Student Services Fees must allow any student the opportunity to participate in its organization in some manner. Unfortunately, at the price of $5 per semester, the readership program cannot and will not provide access to all students who pay the fee.

Who will the program benefit? Those who read all three available papers – and are able to get them – five days per week will of course be paying less than the cover price. But this will be a rarity. The rest of us will be subsidizing their savings. If you are only on campus two or three days per week, you will still bear the cost. Ditto if you are one of those unlucky students who has to spend time going to class, doing homework or studying and does not have the free time to read three newspapers every day.

I hope students will not have to deal with the consequences of a permanently implemented readership program. If the matter goes before them, I hope the fees committee will see that the program is in violation of one of the basic tenets of regents’ policy and that it will benefit a few at the expense of many.

There are actions students can take right now to prevent the program from becoming permanent.

E-mail MSA at [email protected] and let them know you will not pay for a program that is unfair to most students. Do not pick up the papers. The number read during the trial period will be used as leverage during the fees process. If you want to read these papers, go to their Web sites, which provide the full content free.

Perhaps you want to read the papers the old-fashioned way, by purchasing one at the many newsstands on campus. This might hearken you back to times when corporations did not ask students to subsidize their profits at the expense of their peers.

Adam VanWagner is a MSA Forum member and a College of Liberal Arts senior. Send comments to [email protected]