The Sunflower

Letter to the Editor — Amy DeVault

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As the faculty adviser to The Sunflower, I am beyond disheartened that the Student Government Association has decided to slash the funding for the student newspaper to only half of what the paper requested, especially since it was cut by a third two years ago. A nearly 50 percent cut in just three years — from $158,000 to $80,000 — will be incredibly difficult to navigate. It will mean fewer paid positions for students and less coverage for the campus community.

Some senators, including SGA leadership, continue to suggest that The Sunflower students should simply sell more ads. The business model for newspapers has changed drastically over the past decade, and it simply isn’t that simple. Advertising revenue has plummeted, for professional newspapers and student newspapers alike. For the first time, The New York Times is now relying more on subscriptions than print ad sales. If you apply the professional newspaper model to a campus newspaper, student fees pay for a subscription for every Wichita State student. Look at it not as SGA funds, but student funds.

For the past two years, WSU students have paid about $7 each a year to help fund The Sunflower, and for that $7, they can pick up a campus newspaper twice a week and find more content online. Every story, headline, photo, cartoon, graphic and design is created by students. Those students are paid for their work.

Funding the Student Government Association at $256,000 and the student newspaper at $80,000 seems disproportionate to me. Both play important leadership roles on campus, both offer hands-on experience, and both pay salaries for students’ time and work. One happens to be exercising its constitutionally protected First Amendment right to freedom of expression, and that seems to be what is at issue here.

Since 1896, The Sunflower has provided a hands-on learning experience for students, but just as important, it has served as an open forum for student voices. The students who work for the paper learn in the best way possible — by doing journalism. And students across campus get to learn about what the administration and student government leaders are doing on their behalf.

Editorially independent student newspapers operate outside of faculty or administrative control. Editors and reporters are encouraged to seek answers to difficult questions and sometimes challenge authority, and that watchdog function of a free press creates somewhat of a natural conflict between any newspaper and the government it reports on. But democracy depends on engaged citizens and the fourth estate, and a campus newspaper provides applied learning in both.

SGA presidents have come and gone. Sunflower editors have come and gone. But The Sunflower has served as a forum for student voices as well as a preserver of institutional history for more than a century. Previous administrators and Student Government Associations have protected the funding for the paper, because they understood the value, even when they disagreed with the coverage. That’s why The Sunflower is in the fixed line-item category.

No matter the content, I hope students, faculty and administrators understand the value of supporting a student newspaper on campus. And to those senators who were brave enough to stand up for your fellow students and a free press, I applaud you.

 

Amy DeVault

Journalism instructor / The Sunflower faculty adviser

Wichita State University

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