As far as campus institutions go, the Argus is easily one of the most vocally and consistently criticized. In my time at Wes, I’ve observed a wide variety of opinion concerning the Argus, ranging from indifference to anger to restrained praise. Recent incidents including the Mytheos debacle and the erroneous reporting of three students’ HIV results seem to have contributed to negative feelings toward our student newspaper. In addition to encouraging a general understatement of the Argus‘ successes (their website and Wespeaks being some examples of those), I don’t think that focusing on these content issues is the most constructive or valuable way to discuss the improvement of our newspaper. There are other, organizational, issues that are central to the Argus becoming more widely embraced by students. Therefore, I won’t be focusing here on the quality of the Argus’ content, though in many ways those considerations cannot escape any conversation about a media form, but will instead talk about how the Argus operates.
In this post, I’ll be focusing largely on something most students seem to know very little about: the Argus’ finances. While any student can read the newspaper and decide whether they approve of the quality of its content, it has occurred to me that not many students are aware of how much money our college newspaper receives from the SBC or how it is used. Because SBC funding comes from the student activities fee that we all pay for through tuition, I felt that is was especially important to inform students about where our money is going. Although I know many of us feel rather detached from the Argus and don’t see ourselves as having anything to do with the publication, in many ways we are its benefactors. Your student newspaper is not free.
After spending some time thinking about how the Argus operates financially, I realized it would be really helpful to look at other schools’ newspapers as points of comparison. So I’ve included in this post comparisons of funding sources, who on staff gets paid, and how often their newspaper is published for eight other schools.
After the jump you’ll find some statistics and interesting factoids about the Argus, other college newspapers, where your money goes, as well as some heavy opining!
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll acknowledge that I was one of two Argus photo editors during the spring semester of my sophomore year. I went abroad the following fall and when I returned the editorship was already decided, so that one semester was the closest I’ve ever been to the Argus. My experiences on the editorial staff won’t figure too deeply into what I say in this post except that I have some understanding of what it is like to be a student on the staff. It is time-consuming and sometimes maddeningly frustrating work. That goes double (triple?) for Editors-in-Chief. Point being, you shouldn’t expect this to be a tirade about how they should work harder or get better contributors or whatever. The current editorial staff inherited a lot of what they have to work with now and it would be too much of a simplification of how the Argus operates to blame them for any perceived flaws in what is produced.
Before I start getting into all the specifics, I should begin by explaining where I’ve gotten my information from. All of the details about the Argus’ finances come from the SBC, which has demonstrated its commitment to transparency by providing me with the detailed budget report for the Argus (2009-2010). A condensed version of the Argus budget is accessible to all students through their student portfolios. (Under “Student Life at Wesleyan” click on WSA Tools and Applications, then click on the SBC Allocations tab and View Submitted Request Forms, search for The Wesleyan Argus and choose “2009-2010 Wesleyan Argus Annual Budget [Approved and Budget Processed].”) The condensed version, in addition to not providing much detail, also does not accurately convey how much SBC money the Argus actually uses. I’ll elaborate more on that point a little later. (Just a note: The Argus did offer to provide me with information about their budget, but the SBC info got to me first.)
All of the information about other newspapers comes from their websites and from correspondence via email with Editors-in-Chief or business managers. I emailed the staff of these newspapers asking two questions: 1) Do any members of your editorial/general staff get paid? and 2) Does the newspaper receive funding from the university? In retrospect, I should have asked about funding from a student activities fee in question #2, but every respondent made it pretty clear where they were getting their funding from anyway.
Below is a chart that compiles the answers I got in my email exchanges as well as basic information about enrollment sizes and the Argus’ finances. (Sorry for such a large chart!)
|School/Newspaper||Total Undergraduate Enrollment (Fall 2008)||How often do they print?||Who, if anybody, on staff is paid?||How are they funded?|
|The Williams Record||1,997||Weekly||Only the distributors of newspapers and subscriptions||Wages, printing, and all overhead costs covered by ad and subscription revenues|
|The Wellesley News||2,344||Weekly||Only the delivery person||Used to be financially independent but has had to accept money from the student activities fee due to a budget crisis|
|The Middlebury Campus||2,450||Weekly||Only the office manager and circulation coordinator||Middlebury buys newspapers from them, [EDIT @ 10:08 PM] also gets revenue from ads and subscriptions|
|The Colgate Maroon-News||2,832||Weekly||Only two-person delivery staff- $10/hour||Working towards moving away from school funding|
|The Trinity Tripod||2,344||Weekly||Nobody on staff is paid||Printing is paid for through the Student Activities Fee, overhead is paid for through ad revenue|
|The Colby Echo||1,846||Weekly||Editors who work at the Echo for more than one semester receive a “modest stipend” every other week||Wages and overhead covered by ad revenue and subscriptions, printing is paid for by the Student Government Association|
|The Amherst Student||1,699||Weekly||Nobody on staff is paid||Have had to accept student body money because of money issues, but are working to become independent again soon|
|The Mount Holyoke News||2,168||Weekly||Editors and writers do not get paid||Receives about $25,000 from the university|
|The Wesleyan Argus||2,772||Twice a week||Editors-in-Chief; online editor and assistant online editor; production and layout staff; business, advertising, and subscription managers; delivery staff||Receives around $40,000 at the beginning of the semester from the SBC, then repays some of it from revenue|
Source: National Center for Education Statistics [www.nces.ed.gov]
Last semester, the Argus received $40,042.97 from the SBC. Of this amount, $24,510.99 went to printing costs alone, $13,590 went to pay student workers, and $1,941.98 went to miscellaneous overhead costs. Every year, the Argus pays back some of this money through their revenue from ads and subscriptions, which usually amounts to about $10,000-$15,000 by the end of the year. The total amount of SBC money used by the Argus is around $25,000-$30,000 per year. Since I don’t have these kinds of figures for other college newspapers (except for The Mount Holyoke News, which receives about the same amount), I cannot tell if this amount is unusual. One thing that I find interesting though, is that while other newspapers seem to specifically allocate student money for printing costs, the Argus does not explicitly state that SBC funds are only being used for printing. It is entirely possible that wages and overhead costs are covered by their revenue (and the numbers could support this being the case), but I know I would be far more comfortable with so many staff members getting paid and getting paid the amount they do if these allocations were made clearer, at least in terms of SBC budgeting.
This section is definitely the most difficult one for me to write because talking about whether someone should get paid for the work that they do is very uncomfortable. I know that many people I’ve talked to don’t understand why Argus staff is paid. From the chart above, it is clear that the Argus pays quite a few more members of their staff than the other newspapers I looked at (besides The Colby Echo). What stands out even more is that the Argus pays their Editors-in-Chief. Here’s the thing—I’m not sure that they don’t deserve to be paid. According to last semester’s budget documents, the two EIC’s were paid $530 to be split between them. (This semester there are four EIC’s and it is unclear how the $530 is being split.) Either way, that doesn’t amount to that much money per person considering that they probably spend 20+ hours a week on the Argus. Because of this large amount of time, it would be difficult for EIC’s to have an outside job. On the other hand, it’s also true that putting “Editor-in-Chief” on a resume is pretty valuable in itself.
I’m not too familiar with the work that the rest of the paid staff does, so I can’t comment on how taxing their jobs are. Still, the fact that so many members of the non-editorial staff are paid is interesting when compared to the number of paid positions on other college newspapers. Again, it is difficult to suggest that someone should no longer be paid for their work, but I think it’s worth asking why they are paid (and paid as much as they are) in the first place. Today, the answer to the question of why they get paid usually seems to be “because otherwise nobody would do it,” but that still doesn’t clarify for me why section editors aren’t paid and why other members of the staff are. I’ll be interested to hear the philosophy behind the Argus’ wage system if there is anybody who knows. Since it was probably developed so long ago, I’m doubtful that anyone currently on staff could say for certain why the system is the way it is today.
Here is the one place where the Argus is most obviously an outlier. Of all the newspapers I’ve looked at, only the Argus publishes twice a week. It is possible that there are other schools of our size that publish bi-weekly, but I still don’t think it makes sense for such a small campus’ newspaper to come out more than once a week. Barring unusual circumstances, not that much news-worthy stuff happens around here. I think that students’ most common complaints about the Argus, namely that its content is weak and that there are far too many errors, would be greatly reduced if the staff had more time to work on a single issue each week. I think this is a case where quality trumps quantity. I can’t imagine anyone would prefer a lesser-quality newspaper twice a week to a higher-quality one once a week.
Printing weekly would also presumably cut down on costs. Staff wages that are paid per issue would amount to about half of what they are now. Printing costs should be much lower as well. It would also make much less sense to pay EIC’s if the Argus were to be a weekly paper because they would have fewer constraints on how they spend their time. With lowered costs and probably better quality, it seems clear to me that printing once a week is the direction that the Argus should take.
In researching and writing this post I have been well aware of the haterade (love that word) that could potentially be thrown my way. Ultimately, I have decided that it doesn’t matter how much crap I get for this post. Somehow I became part of one of the two biggest campus media outlets, and I’ve found myself caring way more about how information is and isn’t made available to students and how many opportunities we have to express our concerns about all sorts of issues. The Argus has done plenty of reporting on Wesleying, but generally nobody at Wesleying has commented in depth on the Argus. Feeling that lately students have really been questioning the Argus’ relevance to campus life and the staff’s commitment to quality work, I have chosen to bring some attention to these student concerns while also trying to be constructive about it. While it is easy to criticize the Argus and its staff, we’re really not doing anything to help the situation unless we acknowledge that putting out the newspaper is really difficult and also talk about ways that it could be made easier, including the possibility of decreasing the number of issues each semester.
You can ignore my commentary, but I want to make sure that the information I’ve included in this post is available to anyone who wants to know more about our student newspaper and how it compares to others. I think this is important, not only because we effectively pay for the Argus, but because the content and quality of our newspaper does affect how knowledgeable we are about what happens at our home away from home eight months of the year. Hopefully, somebody else with more time and a better handle of money and newspaper publication issues will tackle this topic in the future and fill in the gaps where I couldn’t.
So, enough of my opinions, what do you all have to say? Do you care how much money the Argus receives from the SBC or that staff gets paid? Would you be OK with the Argus only publishing once a week? Do you simply not care about anything related to the Argus (I know quite a few people feel this way)?
[A HUGE thanks goes out to the EICs and business managers at Williams, Wellesley, Middlebury, Colgate, Mount Holyoke, Colby, Amherst, and Trinity! Your help is greatly appreciated. Thank you also to the SBC, The Wesleyan Argus, and to anybody else at Wes who helped me in the research and writing process.]
[Also, I think it’s especially important to reiterate for this post that Wesleying bloggers write independently of each other, and the publishing of the post is not constitutive of some kind of “feud” between Wesleying and the Argus.]