You probably have a number of questions concerning the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative. Well, that’s precisely what this page is for!
Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions we’ve encountered:
Wouldn’t this fee compromise the Daily Cal’s independence?
No. Once passed, 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 ASUC. That means the Daily Cal can continue to provide you objective, honest news and analysis without outside pressure or the threat of lost funding. Further, because every student (except those in low income families) would pay the fee, it would hold the Daily Cal accountable to the student body as a whole, rather than any particular interest.
Isn’t this a Daily Cal bailout?
Unlike the bailouts we hear about in the financial sector, the Daily Cal’s financial situation is a result of structural shifts in the journalism industry that have impacted all independent newspapers across the nation. We have and continue to make substantial changes to cut costs and boost revenue, but because newspapers everywhere haven’t been able to find a sustainable model, we do not anticipate being able to fill our budget gap in the short-term. Simply put: a free newspaper isn’t free.
What is the Daily Cal doing to boost revenues in other ways?
The Daily Cal’s dire financial situation over the last few years has forced it to boost existing revenue sources and find new ones. Recognizing that an organization’s people are what make is successful, we reinvested in students and restructured our sales department to boost retention and effectiveness. The effort of these students helped us reach some of the highest revenue figures we’ve had since the crisis began. Recognizing that donations are having an increasingly important role in funding journalism, we redesigned our donations website to more consistently and effectively appeal to alumni and potential donors. Finally, we launched a new design of our website in May to include industry standard advertisement sizes, which has boosted our online revenue to record heights, and we are further restructuring our sales process to emphasize online advertisement sales. However, the sum of these and many other initiatives will not make up the structural deficit we face as a result of permanent changes in the journalism industry.
Why doesn’t this fee fill the entire Daily Cal budget deficit?
We wanted this fee to be as small as possible. Two dollars per semester will fill almost half of our anticipated annual budget deficit. We don’t want our entire problem solved, as we value the challenge of helping address it ourselves through improving our existing operations and innovating new revenue streams. This also allows for excellent business experience. Students looking to join us and help with our business model are encouraged to apply.
Why doesn’t the Daily Cal cut print altogether?
This would significantly diminish the accessibility of the Daily Cal to students who enjoy reading the paper in between classes, as they eat lunch, etc. The Daily Cal’s ability to deliver important information like the surge of robberies in January or to keep the administration accountable would be significantly hampered. Yes, we’ve made strides in moving online, and we have more Facebook followers than almost any other student newspaper in the nation. But much of our influence still remains in print and Cal students have pride in having a daily student newspaper like most other major college campuses.
Are other student newspapers facing a decline in revenue and how are they handling it?
Yes, they are. A large portion of our budget comes from national advertisers, and thus we are subject on a month-to-month basis to shifts all other student newspapers experience as well. However, we have an extremely unique degree of financial independence, receiving no funds from the campus or student government and paying rent for our office space, which makes us relatively more vulnerable to shifts in the industry. Nonetheless, many other award-winning student newspapers in the nation have sought student fees, including the Daily Illini.
Wouldn’t this create a “publications monopoly”?
Almost every college across the nation has a single college newspaper, and the Daily Cal has been UC Berkeley’s paper for more than 140 years. Other student newspapers that regularly win awards are almost always the primary newspapers serving their student body, while those with no lead student paper have a poor media climate. Nonetheless, the Daily Cal has a constantly changing cast of student editors, managers and reporters, and we encourage anyone who is interested in making the paper better to join us. V.O.I.C.E. will fund the idea of having a student newspaper at UC Berkeley, in whatever form it exists after we all graduate.
Why does the Daily Cal spend so much on professional staff?
The Daily Cal is independent from the university and runs as its own corporation (the Independent Berkeley Students Publishing Company, Inc) with a budget of about $850,000. In order to ensure the operation runs smoothly, we hire professional staff members (some full-time and some part-time) to provide industry experience and continuity. Professional staff members do not have to go to class and can stick around longer than four years. Nearly every student newspaper across the nation hires professional staff members for these reasons. Nonetheless, the Daily Cal has been increasingly investing in students to improve its operations by leverage their creativity and ambition.
There are often extra Daily Cals on the racks. Why doesn’t the Daily Cal print fewer?
Our current print run of 10,000 papers per day gives us the most affordable rate per issue printed. Further, the marginal cost for a printing press to run a few more minutes and produce a few thousand more papers is small. However, we are currently reviewing our printing arrangements to see how we can decrease costs, a process we go through every few years. We have also hired a student dedicated to distribution, and we’ve made significant progress this year. We closely monitor how many papers are picked up from which racks, and we redistribute the papers as best as possible so they can best reach students. Some racks empty out very quickly, while others have many extras at the end of the day. If you have suggestions for better rack placement, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What cuts has the Daily Cal implemented/considered implementing?
In 2008, the Daily Cal eliminated its Wednesday edition and cut editorial pay. This was at the height of the journalism crisis, when newspapers saw their worst year of revenues on record. We struggled to pay our rent to the ASUC and, as a result, had half of it deferred and half forgiven, a move that made us very uncomfortable but that was a last resort. Since then, we have regularly revisited the possibility of further cuts, from nickels and dimes to significant chops.
The Daily Cal received a generous $300,000 donation from the Heising Simons Foundation that was dispersed over the course of three years. We are exhausting the final installment this semester. On top of that, we have received numerous small donations from alumni in order to keep the paper afloat over the last several years. We cannot continue to use substantial funds from these donors on a perpetual basis. That’s why we’re asking those who benefit the most, the students, to pitch in a few dollars each to have a campus newspaper.
Why isn’t the Daily Cal partnering with other publications?
The Daily Cal sought to partner with other student media outlets so that they, too, could benefit from this fee and so that the fee could have a greater impact on the campus media community. However, publications expressed concern that the Daily Cal would be receiving funds directly instead of going through the student government or an oversight body including student government officials. The Daily Cal expressed that this would compromise the newspaper’s independence and ability to keep the student government accountable, as prior governing boards in its history had sought to fire student editors for the content the paper published. Unable to reconcile this point and recognizing that the Daily Cal was in much more urgent and direct need of the funds, the fee was amended to include only the Daily Cal.
Where will this money go?
Since the Daily Cal has an ongoing deficit, the funds will most immediately go toward ensuring the Daily Cal can meet its financial obligations without having to cut print. Because the fee would fund less than half of the anticipated deficit, the Daily Cal would work to fill the remainder of the deficit. A provision in the fee referendum language specifically and explicitly states that the Daily Cal must release its budget for the public’s viewing. Our 2011 financial information is available here.
Is there a chance this fee would give the Daily Cal funds beyond its deficit?
This fee would fund less than half of the Daily Cal’s deficit, the other half of which the Daily Cal is seeking to fill with various initiatives. The initiatives may be successful enough to fill their share of the deficit, but are highly unlikely to go further. Additionally, because businesses are increasingly moving away from print advertising, the Daily Cal’s budget deficit is highly uncertain, and thus a reliable source of funds can help stabilize the business so that it has time to seek a sustainable model.
Is the Daily Cal going to seek a renewal of this fee perpetually into the future?
The journalism industry is still highly in flux. The Daily Cal is pursuing initiatives that it hopes will take huge bites out of its deficit. However, the paper’s revenue model is reliant upon the marketing budgets of other businesses, which are highly variable and often first to be slashed in hard times. This can translate to significant slashes to the Daily Cal’s budget on a month-to-month basis. If the initiatives are successful and diminish our budget significantly, our need to renew the fee (at least at the $2 level) declines. This is our hope.
Is it true that the transparency clause in the language of the referendum is vague so that the Daily Cal can avoid publishing its expenses on an annual basis?
No. The transparency clause states that “The Daily Californian shall make its budget available for the public’s perusal.” Prior versions of the clause were amended to make the intention absolutely clear. In final discussions with publications, attendees did not bring up the transparency clause as an ongoing concern. The Daily Cal will publish its budget on an annual basis for students to view, just as it did this year.
Will this fee disincentivize the Daily Cal from filling its budget deficit creatively?
No. The Daily Cal has had an ongoing budget deficit of about $200,000 per year, which has thus far been filled mostly by generous temporary donations by board members and alumni. This fee will help fill less than half of that. The remaining budget deficit will still be a significant challenge to tackle, although we have outlined projects that we hope will accomplish just that. The reality is that independent newspapers no longer have a reliable model to earn enough revenue to break even. The nation’s best newspapers have struggled with this issue, and while the Daily Cal continues to give the challenge its best shot, it realistically (at least in the short-term) will not be able to fill the budget deficit alone.
Why should students help fund a failing operation?
The Daily Cal is far from a failing operation and continues to receive more awards than almost any other student newspaper in the nation, blaze new ways of delivering content and train journalists who go on to hold top positions within the journalism industry. The value it provides to the community is greater than it has ever been, with vibrant Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts, as well as an award-winning, constantly improving website. Click here for a list of the Daily Cal’s many awards and notable alumni. The reality is that despite these tremendous improvements, the Daily Cal has faced the same plummet in revenue that every other independent newspaper has faced. V.O.I.C.E. would help fund a highly successful student newsroom.
Why doesn’t the Daily Cal stop paying its student staff?
The Daily Cal has significantly cut its student staff pay in recent years and has periodically considered doing so further. The strongest concern is that because many of the positions at the paper require 40-60 hours per week in order to produce a daily paper, staff members often could not work for the Daily Cal if it did not pay, because they would need to spend their time working elsewhere to help earn their education. Low-income student staff members bring this to our attention every time pay cuts are on the table. Further, the vast majority of student staff members are not paid. Of our 180-student editorial staff, for example, only 23 of the editors (who spend the most time putting out the paper) are paid.
Why is the initiative called V.O.I.C.E.?
V.O.I.C.E. stands for “Vitalizing Online Information and Community Exchange.” The Daily Cal has been rapidly expanding its online presence over the last few years, with new website designs and a social media presence greater than almost any other college newspaper in the nation. However, financial troubles have hindered the Daily Cal from growing that presence even further. V.O.I.C.E. will put the Daily Cal on sounder financial footing, so that rather than making debilitating cuts that will hinder revenue growth, it will be able to expand further and more fully online. “Community exchange” refers to the fact that the Daily Cal is also a forum for the community, through which anyone can publish an op-ed or letter to the editor, or any student can join in order to create content with us.