Money walks, paper talks

Jay Benedict | Editor-in-Chief

Last night’s Student Government Association meeting was supposed to feature the decisive vote on whether to continue the Collegiate Readership Program. Instead, it featured passionate speeches from both sides that caused the group to postpone it for another week.

“We appreciate the speakers that came and spoke in favor of the program,” said Steve Chastain, senior in construction management. “It made SGA realize that we need to wait and talk to more students before deciding on this issue.”

Justifying the cut

The vote could have cancelled SGA’s contract with USA Today, which provides students with the USA Today, the Joplin Globe and the Morning Sun at five distribution points on campus free of charge. The cancellation would save SGA around $7,500 each year, but at the expense of students having free access to the nation’s largest daily newspaper and the two largest local papers.

“SGA has been discussing whether or not to renew the contract for the last couple of years,” said SGA President Lara Ismert. “Right now, we just don’t feel like spending almost $8,000 each year for the program is justified, especially when students can read those newspapers at the library for free.”

Ismert also cited the prevalence of smartphones and the applications that bring the news to students’ fingertips. Currently, the USA Today and the New York Times have free apps for Android and the iPhone.

Defending the program

“It’s an insult for SGA to assume that every student has a smartphone and can access the news that way,” Chastain said. “Those apps don’t usually offer the full article without a paid subscription, and I think that student get more out of the news if they have a physical copy in their hands.”

During the coming week, SGA plans to use their office in the Overman Student Center as a polling site. They encourage students to visit the office and they will ask them if they utilize and support the program. SGA also encourages students to come to the meeting next week to voice their opinions.

“I think it would be better if we put the news stand in one centralized location,” said Caroline Barto, senior in psychology. “It’s not fair to take it away because some students have to read newspapers for classes, so they should be available on campus, but one would be enough if everyone knew where it was.”
Christen Johnson said SGA should get rid of the program.

“I don’t really see the benefit of it,” said Johnson, freshman in nursing. “I hardly ever see anyone get one. They’re a waste of space and money.”

By the numbers

The contract stipulated that SGA paid $13,000 each year, and then was reimbursed by USA Today based on the number of papers actually picked up by students. During the 2011-2012 academic year, students picked up 18,756 papers. After the reimbursement, the university paid $7,552.11.

“I think that the price is right, or we wouldn’t be paying almost $8,000 each year if students didn’t use it,” Chastain said.”

Breaking down those larger number tells a better story about newspaper consumption under the Collegiate Readership Program. The campus doesn’t receive papers during June or July because there are so few students on campus. Which means that during the 43 weeks that papers are delivered, 457 paper are picked up each week, or 91 papers each day. So, out of the more than 7,000 students on campus, 91 of them take advantage of the program each day.

Considering alternatives

Ismert says that if the program is discontinued, SGA plans to make up for it with other means.

“We plan on starting something called the “Fall Forum” where we bring local politicians and invite representatives from each presidential campaign to campus to discuss issues with students and educate them about the platform,” Ismert said.

She also said that the money saved from canceling the program could to put to other beneficial uses on campus. She said extending library hours is one potential use.

“That money can be allocated any way that SGA thinks is useful,” Ismert said. “We could use it to help the library fund its later hours, which has been a goal of ours for a while now.”

SGA’s next meeting is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, in the Governors Room of the student center.

“If there is enough student support and we keep this program, I will personally take it upon myself to promote it and raise awareness for it among students,” Chastain said. “I don’t think people even know that the papers are free.”

* For more on the Collegiate Readership Program debate, click here.

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