By Shelby Shepherd
The New York Times, USA Today and the Quad City Times: for years these newspapers graced the entrances of dorms and were as much a part of the normal décor as the security desks are. But as students returned for their fall semester, the white racks that once held news from around the world were nowhere to be found.
This year, Student Activities, with the support of SGA, decided to cut the USA Today Readership Program. This program made newspapers available to St. Ambrose students at no additional cost to them. But according to Jason Richter, director of student engagement, the numbers showed students were not taking advantage of those free newspapers.
“Looking at the usage of the USA Readership Program which is residence hall based and seeing the numbers were not real good, it was decided that that would be something to reallocate,” Richter.
The usage Richter referred to came out of a study from the St. Ambrose Institutional Prioritization Task Force for 2012-2013. At that point it was suggested the funds for the readership program be used by Student Activities in other places.
When USA Today brought their proposal to St. Ambrose for the 2014-2015 academic year, it showed that on average 131 newspapers were being picked up daily.
According to the data, that means that 56 percent of the papers were being picked up.
For Richter, this data confirmed his beliefs that the money could be used in better ways, but Communication Department Chair, Ann Preston, disagrees.
“The Readership Program was successful,” Preston said. “It wouldn’t have cost any money at all if no one was picking it up. It cost St. Ambrose money because people were picking up the newspapers and looking at them.”
The budget for the newspaper program was $15,000 and about $10,000 of the budget was being used every year. The school does not pay for the newspapers that are not picked-up, but, according to their contract with USA Today, still must set aside enough money to cover the cost of the entire program in the event that every paper delivered to the school was taken.
Since that money had to be set aside it could not be used for other things. That left around $5,000 unused most years, and Richter did not like seeing that money just sit around when so many clubs are in need of it.
“As director of student engagement I’m going to get more bang for that $15,000 by giving it back to the student clubs and organizations,” Richter said. “For me it just seems like that’s money better spent when I see the numbers of how many (newspapers) were getting picked up in the residence halls.”
And that is exactly where the money that used to be set aside for the USA Today program has been put to. Of that $15,000, $10,000 has been given to SGA to distribute between student clubs and club sports. The other $5,000 is being put towards the Late Night SAU program, which offers students activities between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
While Preston says that she understands there is a need for club funding, she feels that by getting rid of the newspapers the school is not holding true to its mission.
“If we are trying to prepare students to make a difference in their community, newspapers are the way to learn about the communities you live in — the local community, the larger national community, regional community, international — so it’s a real loss,” Preston said.
Richter says that many students can get their news online, but Preston says that puts limits on how much students can read.
“You hit a pay wall if you try to read too many articles in the Quad City Times or the New York Times,” Preston said. “You get to read one or two and then it says, ‘stop you have to pay for this,’ so there really isn’t an alternative.”
As of now, students only have free access to newspapers through the school’s library. SAU is currently looking into alternative solutions.
*Originally published Sept. 18 2014, “The Buzz.”