Cuts to the Daily will harm coverage

But the cuts recently enacted by the fees committee will save each student $3.

Justin Horwath

As if to provide another reminder of just how grim the print market is, for the first time in at least five years, the Student Services Fees Committee significantly reduced the amount students pay toward The Minnesota DailyâÄôs budget. With that decision âÄî coupled with the demise of The Wake at its direction âÄî this yearâÄôs committee has the unusual distinction as a student body that has handicapped the speech of students it purportedly serves. After the financial crisis arrived at the DailyâÄôs doorstep last year âÄî relatively late but nevertheless announced âÄî the paper stopped printing Friday editions. It slashed positions and wages as if taking direction from an Ayn Rand novel. Reporters and editors bailed as frequently as the advertisers. All told, the Daily lost $475,000 in advertising revenue. It was in this context that the committee this year decided to scrutinize the DailyâÄôs use âÄî or lack thereof âÄî of its roughly $690,000 reserve account. The account is like an emergency savings account that, at its current levels, would keep the paper operational for about 2.5 months without other funds. This year, the committee proposed to cut the DailyâÄôs request by $90,000 because, it argued, the paper failed to justify its reserves. The Daily appealed last week, saying its reserves were in fact too low by traditional nonprofit standards, which suggest reserve funds should keep organizations operational for at least six months. Under the direction of Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart, who voiced disagreement last year with this paperâÄôs scrutiny of the proposed smoking ban, the committee met the paper in the middle, cutting its request by $45,000. This will save each student $3 a year. I was baffled when I heard about the decision, so I called Kenny Kapphahn, chairman of the committee, over the weekend. I asked him why the committee carried through with the reserve argument this year and not previously. âÄúThatâÄôs a really good question, but I canâÄôt generalize across committees,âÄù he said, except to say that they probably perceived that the Daily would use the reserve account if âÄúsomething went really bad at the newspaper.âÄù âÄúThe people in this yearâÄôs committee said, âÄòWell, the bad thing did happen,âÄô âÄù Kapphahn added, matter-of-factly referring to the financial vitiation the most acute economic crisis since the Great Depression brought upon the Daily. The justifications the Daily provided for its reserve levels might have failed to convince the committee, but theyâÄôre sound to me. In its appeal, the Daily said the operating reserves are used to buffer against financial impact of revenue losses, unexpected capital expense needs or any other emergencies. What the paper failed to mention was that the Daily, if it does its job right, will be dragged into litigation. âÄúWhat will happen if the Daily gets sued?âÄù Projects reporter Mike Mullen asked me the other night. Eight years ago, The Daily joined other Twin Cities media organizations in successfully suing the University for refusing to open its presidential search meetings. âÄúThatâÄôs an interesting point,âÄù Kapphahn said about litigation funds. âÄúBut that hasnâÄôt been brought up.âÄù It should have been. Still, the committee gave the paper two days to throw together an appeal. And then there is the 10 percent bylaw. The committee has a bylaw saying that a student group or administrative unit may not hold reserves more than 10 percent of its total operating budget. The DailyâÄôs would have been at about 38 percent if the committee granted the full request. But IâÄôm going to disregard that bylaw because thatâÄôs exactly what the committee has done for years, for the Daily and other administrative units (which constitute exceptions because of the scale of their operations). The committee did not invoke that bylaw in its final recommendation, nor would the cuts force the Daily to bring down its reserve account to 10 percent. The debate about the DailyâÄôs reserve account, however, is a hilariously false one. The net result of the cuts may very well be cuts in wages and positions, which has already hamstrung the paperâÄôs ability not only to cover the University community but also fulfill its important mission as a training organization for students. When I started as a reporter, I saw about $500 coming my way bimonthly to turn five articles in the same period. I skipped class a lot, spent about 50 hours a week at the Daily and sometimes, with the help of pharmaceuticals, went a day or two without sleep. I donâÄôt regret it, but I do regret that the DailyâÄôs culture often emphasized work over class. ItâÄôs never had enough employees to allow a balance between the two. Now, that paycheck would be half as much with a heavier workload. Managing Editor âÄî a position that directs newsroom coverage âÄî Alex Robinson is doubling up as a projects editor, which directs important investigative coverage. The Daily consolidated or eliminated many other positions. Students need money. And if the Daily wonâÄôt give it to them, other employers will. âÄúCan we only hire students whose parents are helping them with school?âÄù Editor-in-Chief Holly Miller asked. âÄúWe want to at least be competitive with other campus jobs, and I donâÄôt think we should be exploiting students with unpaid internships.âÄù Had the Daily tapped into its reserve account last year, it would have still been merely surviving instead of prospering. And that it has done nothing but the latter, journalistically, for more than 100 years speaks more to the student support for the Daily than to the talent it produces. Kapphahn told me that on Wednesday he met with Rinehart about the DailyâÄôs appeal with two other subcommittee chairs. âÄúNot much time was spent talking about the Daily,âÄù he said. âÄúProbably all of about five minutes, maybe 10. Not a lot of time.âÄù Justin Horwath is a freelance columnist. Please send comments to [email protected]