Multiple student publications are reducing their budgets this semester in response to requests from the Undergraduate Finance Board to decrease costs, according to representatives from several publications and UFB.
UFB alerted publications to upcoming budget cuts when it did not approve any requests to cover printing costs for the spring 2018 semester in their annual budgeting review last April. By refusing budget requests, UFB aimed to spur conversations about reducing costs, The Herald previously reported.
“A lot of the groups have been able to show us some reduction in their printing costs and have really narrowed down what is essential” to their papers, said UFB Vice Chair Drew To ’19.
UFB approved funding for all but two publications by the end of the fall 2017 semester, according to UFB Chair Yuzuka Akasaka ’18. The budget of the College Hill Independent — a weekly publication, known as the Indy, run by students from Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design — was approved last week, and the budget of the Clerestory Journal of the Arts — a literary publication — has yet to be approved, according to editors of each publication.
Printing costs account for the vast majority of publications’ budgets. For example, 100 percent of the Clerestory Journal’s and 90 percent of the Indy’s budget go toward printing, editors of each publication said.
Members of the Brown Noser said they made changes to reduce their budgets for this semester by searching for avenues to decrease their printing costs.
The Noser will only print its front and back covers in color this semester instead of the entire paper, according to Editors-in-Chief Francis Bogan ’18 and Katherine Dunham ’18.
Similarly, the Intercollegiate Finance Journal “ended up cutting down one of the sections in (the) magazine and then switching the kind of paper that (it was) using for the cover,” said IFJ Editor-in-Chief Ben Bosis ’19. Despite the changes, “in the end, it wasn’t a terribly large reduction.”
“If they remain as they are, the cuts we made are, we think, totally fine (and) easily manageable,” Bogan said. “I was happy we could hopefully help” UFB.
While Bogan said the Noser is happy to work with UFB to reduce costs, the Noser editors were disappointed they did not receive approval of their spring budget until shortly before winter break. “I’m grateful that we are able to print, … (but) we were disappointed that it took so long for us to know, just because if we had to make big changes we would have had very little time to do so,” Bogan said.
Despite a lengthy budget review process, the Indy did not end up making any cuts to its budget for this semester, according to Managing Editor Jonah Max ’18. Max said taking time to look for new printers over winter break detracted from other projects, like working to establish paid positions for Indy staff members.
“We want to invest a lot of time in making sure that the Independent is as inclusive and accessible as possible to the Providence community and to Brown and RISD, and so the time that we spent on looking for other printers ... comes out of a lot of other initiatives, which I think are more responsive to the needs of Brown,” Max said.
Student publications accounted for about 6 percent of Category III student groups in fall 2017, but received approximately 10 percent of UFB’s roughly $850,000 fall budget, according to Akasaka. Category III groups may request supplemental funding from UFB above the baseline amount provided by the Student Activities Office, according to the Undergraduate Council of Students’ website.
“That’s a little disproportionate,” Akasaka said. “(We’re) valuing publications while still cutting down costs … within the context of funding all the student groups.”
But Max said he does not perceive this discrepancy as unjustified given the varying needs of different types of student groups.
“The idea that it’s somehow a problem that organizations with the most outreach, the most outward-facing presence are going to cost slightly more is sort of ridiculous,” Max said.
Several editors echoed the dissatisfaction expressed by student leaders of print publications last spring in response to UFB’s preliminary communications with them concerning cuts.
“The way they approached it initially … was not acceptable, so I think that’s something that we’ve communicated” to UFB, Bosis said.
Akasaka said UFB is working to improve communication to increase clarity in the future.
UFB is trying to initiate “more points of communication,” Akasaka said. “This year we had feedback forms that we sent out, and the (UFB representatives) have been in contact” with publications.
Managing Editor of the Indy and the Clerestory Journal Signe Swanson ’19 said the budget review process thus far has indicated a lack of support from UFB for print publications.
“It just reflects a sort of ongoing problem with the UFB, which is as much as they have improved (by) not cutting all of our funds, … they don’t seem to be very receptive to the mission or usefulness of print publications,” Swanson said.
Editors of these publications unanimously stressed the importance of existing in print form. Although UFB offered to fund any print publications who expressed interest in becoming fully digital last spring, Akasaka and To said no publications have made this conversion.
“Having worked on a digital magazine or newspaper is not going to give you the same experience that print publication jobs are really looking for because there’s just a lot of logistical issues that come with that (and) that you can’t really get by proxy,” Bosis said.
Though UFB continues to work on a proposal it made last spring to bring all print publications under one printer to receive a bulk discount, To added, no consolidation has been finalized.
While Bosis and Bogan said they would be open to discussing this possibility, Bosis said it would likely be difficult to find a printer that could accommodate the range of print publications funded by UFB.
“One of the difficulties is that paper versus magazine printing just happens very differently, … and I don’t know that anyone’s looked into it to the extent that they know one printer would work for everyone,” Bosis said.
Swanson said she is also skeptical that bringing all publications under one printer would result in lower costs, considering factors like the Indy’s long-standing relationship with its printer and the unconventional format of the Clerestory Journal.
“The Clerestory prints with Brown printing because we just have such a fundamentally different printing process than the Indy does,” Swanson said.
In the long run, To said UFB’s goal is to find a middle ground with print publications. “We were just in constant communication with them to figure out what they can do and what UFB could fund (to) try to find that equilibrium there,” To said.
However, if UFB plans to make further cuts, Bogan said he hopes publications will be given more notice.
“If we need to make changes or supplement our budget, that’s a process that takes a lot of time and can be really difficult and we don’t really have the apparatus to do it,” he said. “I imagine that there could possibly be some more reductions. I just hope we get strong advance notice of it.”
UFB will hold their first meeting of the semester tonight, where Swanson said they will discuss the Clerestory Journal’s spring budget.