SAN FRANCISCO
05/10/2012 03:38 pm ET

UC Berkeley Daily Californian: Voice Initiative May Save Independent Student Newspaper From Extinction

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Recent student government elections at the University of California, Berkeley may have rescued the long-standing independent student newspaper, the Daily Cal, from the brink of bankruptcy and extinction.

The paper's revenue has plummeted 30 percent in three years, forcing managers to cut all paid writers and eliminate the Wednesday edition.

The Daily Cal relied on a sizeable subscription and classified ads. However, websites like Craigslist have rendered printed advertisements all but obsolete.

But a coalition of students may have a solution.

After a long struggle, UC Berkeley students approved a measure that would raise money specifically for the paper’s benefit. The V.O.I.C.E Initiative, which stands for "Vitalizing Online Information and Community Exchange," proposes a two dollar increase in student tuition.

"It means a lot to have students say that a small fee increase is worth investing in an independent student press," Tomar Ovadia, Editor in Chief and President of the Daily Cal, told the Huffington Post.

The victory comes in light of a crushing executive order issued by student government president Vishalli Loomba, who stated the V.O.I.C.E Initiative violated the rules of the UC Office of the President, which prohibit allotting tuition fees to a non-University organization.

But Loomba's order was overtuend, and V.O.I.C.E campaign manager Lynn Yu has filed charges against the student government for the misuse of executive power during the campaign season.

The fight to save the Daily Cal, however, is still far from over.

The proposed tuition increase would fill less than half of the ongoing deficit -- almost $200,000 that newspaper staffers know they will not be able to generate due to structural shifts in the journalism industry.

“The best way to get rid of the deficit would have been to do it in a way where we could solve the journalism crisis, but that is clearly not easy," Ovadia said. "We were immediately very critical of the idea of a student fee, but we were comforted by the process we would go through to get the referendum on the ballot."

V.O.I.C.E funds would go directly to the Daily Cal, with no opportunity for tampering on the part of the University administration or the student government. The fee is meant to hold the publication accountable to the student body as a whole, rather than a particular interest.

“I think this informs students about what the Daily Cal is really doing," Ovadia said. "We have to struggle by ourselves, but independence is very dear to us."

Founded in 1871, the Daily Cal has no affiliation to the University of California and traditionally does not receive any funding from it. The newspaper became independent in 1971 after a controversial editorial resulted in the University board firing three editors.

The level of independence remains high compared to other University newspapers. Daily Cal officials even pay rent for office space in Eshleman Hall of the University.

Critics argue the V.O.I.C.E. initiative violates the paper's independent status. “If they want to remain independent, there is no way for them to implement student fee without violating bylaws," Alexis Kopaskie, Director of Business Advertising and Marketing for Cal TV, told the HuffPost. "I don’t see how this is the best solution to their budget deficit."

Cal TV and other campus news outlets are also struggling to maintain the funding they need.

The Daily Cal’s plight echoes a national trend for college newspapers. UCLA's Daily Bruin is having trouble generating funds from advertisers, and Boise State University's The Arbite saw its revenue cut in half. Syracuse University's Daily Orange also had to cut its publications from five days a week to four.

“The recession doesn’t help, but it’s more than that. The reality is that the means through which people communicate has transformed," Ovadia said. "I don’t know what the Daily Cal will look like in one year."

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