If you received one copy of the Baltimore Sun every week for fourteen weeks, it would cost you about $35. The price of high-quality, local reporting is, as dictated by the Sun, $2.49 a week. With the proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year, each full-time UMBC student would pay approximately $5.05 for a year’s worth of The Retriever’s print publications (14 issues) and online content. The proposed budget cuts to The Retriever total a loss of $30,000, which is half of our current Student Government Association allocation and only a third of our total yearly operating costs. The $60,000 allocation from SGA has traditionally been supplemented by advertisement revenue.
We know we’re not the Baltimore Sun, and we’re not asking you to treat us like we are. But the numbers make it clear — student journalism is not a priority on this campus. For proof, look towards UMBC’s two other charter organizations. The Student Events Board, an organization that puts on hundreds of events each year, including Quadmania and Homecoming, was funded $246,000 in the 2019 fiscal year, and SGA has proposed to maintain their funding for 2020. SGA has a proposed FY20 operating budget of $1,113,000.
Both of these organizations do valuable work on our campus; SEB is important in maintaining a vibrant campus life at UMBC, and SGA spearheads numerous student-led initiatives. Call us bold, but we think The Retriever also does important work. Not only does student journalism provide hyper-local reporting on the happenings of the campus community, but it is also important for keeping institutions accountable.
Why, then, doesn’t our organization get the same level of respect that our fellow charter organizations receive? Is it because our computers and other equipment barely function well enough to make it through a single bi-weekly production? Is it because our office is tucked in the far corner of the University Center away from the heart of student life? Is it because we are the only organization on campus who has consistently spoken out against various campus institutions (and lived to see another day)? Is it because our entire organization is based on the idea of dissent?
Yes. And also because we are only allocated $60,000 a year.
Our lowest paid writers make $320 a year — that amounts to $10 a week for the five to ten hours they spend on even their most simple articles. Anyone going above and beyond to produce great journalism is working for pennies. No wonder we currently have only 11 writing positions filled out of a possible 20; many talented journalists on our campus don’t have the financial means to work for our paper and instead take paid internships or positions elsewhere to support themselves.
There are other things we could do with an increased budget. We could deal more easily with technical issues on our website and in our office. We could fund more travel, including sending more of our staff to the Associated Collegiate Press’s annual student journalism conference, which is especially important for The Retriever, seeing as UMBC does not have a formal journalism school. Most importantly, we could fund our writers well enough to allow them to work on larger investigative projects.
But we’re not asking for any of that; The Retriever Editorial Board thinks that last semester and this upcoming semester should be an indication of the impressive work we can do with a $60,000 SGA allocation. And while we would love to continue fantasizing about all the ways an increased budget could change our newspaper for the better, we know that just isn’t feasible for now.
But it also isn’t feasible to expect us to operate under a $30,000 SGA allocation. SGA might argue that we have our reserves to survive on, but as addressed publicly at the SGA Senate meeting on Feb. 18 and in a subsequent article, that’s not a viable option for our organization. Furthermore, we have yet to be informed of whether we will be funded again at the $60,000 level in two years, once our reserves have been drained.
In partially de-funding The Retriever, the SGA, regardless of intent, is sending the message that student journalism is not a valued part of the UMBC campus community. We’re calling on SGA to reconsider this budget cut, and to reflect on the values they want their organization to uphold and exemplify. After all, this decision will not only affect the staff of next year’s newspaper; it will also have a ripple effect that will impact free speech and stifle student voices on our campus for years to come.
To provide feedback on the SGA’s proposed FY20 budget, please click here.