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Do the Matth: BSG puts student media in jeopardy

By William Matthias
On February 9, 2011

Your elected Brockport Student Government officials have committed a crime and are threatening the free press. This is not a shot at the entire organization, only those responsible.  


The first topic of discussion is theft. The second, more important issue on the agenda is proposed legislation putting at risk the status of student media organizations as priority services.  


BSG Treasurer Kyle Kirchgraber recently "borrowed" bundles of The Stylus newspapers, or at least authorized the removal of the bundles, to present to the BSG appropriations committee during the budget review process. He wanted to show the board how much money The Stylus "wastes" on printing. In the process, he committed theft and violated the First Amendment.


The Stylus consulted a lawyer from the Student Press Law Center, Adam Goldstein; though BSG funds The Stylus, it does not have a right to take its newspapers. Goldstein said The Stylus could have taken two courses of action: ask BSG (Kirchgraber) to return the papers, or report the theft to the University Police. We did not pursue the latter course.


Some students may feel what Kirchgraber did is not a big deal. "Those bundles have been sitting there for weeks," they might say. They have, and that is our fault. We failed to redistribute the remaining bundles throughout campus when the other buildings ran out. And yes, it wasn't the most compelling issue of The Stylus. That's not the point. I am talking about principles here.     


Kirchgraber returned the papers upon request. I was going to explain to the BSG trifecta (President Eric May, Vice President Michelle Paul and Kirchgraber) that what he had done was irresponsible and disrespectful to both The Stylus and the Student Body. I was going to be cordial, until the events of Sunday, Jan. 31 took place.  


Paul and BSG's chief of staff, Nick Delaney, came to The Stylus office during pre-production to inform me that the appropriations committee was currently reviewing The Stylus' budget. The official budget review process for priority services (including The Point and BTV) had begun a week earlier. Surprise.


The Stylus had already missed the first meeting. I did not receive official notification of this meeting, despite what Kirchgraber might have you believe. I personally handed the budget to President May on Friday, Dec. 17 (the business office was closed at least 30 minutes before the budget deadline) and assumed I would be contacted when further review commenced. I was wrong. Dead wrong.


The Stylus' executive editor and I reported to the budget meeting unprepared, lacking any documentation related to our expenses or circulation. Kirchgraber and Appropriations Chair Tyler Brown wanted to approve any changes to the budget that night (with a final vote to take place at the next board of directors meeting), without any input from us. The Stylus' circulation, among other things, could have been cut.  This means we would've had to lower our advertising prices. The more revenue we generate, the less student money The Stylus needs from BSG.


Thankfully, the majority of the appropriations committee doesn't have a hidden agenda. It voted to table the budget review for one week to give The Stylus adequate time to gather hard facts and figures, and present budget cuts that make sense.


I'd like to extend a special thanks to those members who voted "Ay" when the motion to table discussion was presented. You truly represent the clubs and organizations who work endlessly to further the interests of all Brockport students, not just their own. You make the political whirlwind that is the Brockport Student Government bearable. You make Brockport a better place.


I'd also like to thank Nick Delaney. He had the idea to come down to the office to inform us that the board was discussing, and would soon decide upon, our budget. He had the decency to be decent.  


This brings me to the most important issue at hand. Yeah, I may have "buried the lead," but it seemed like a logical progression. Michelle Paul recently drafted two pieces of legislation that, if passed, could jeopardize the quantity and quality of the content student media organizations produce. President May alluded to this legislation at the end of last semester.  It is my belief that Kirchgraber supports it, too.   


The first piece of legislation points out the deficit The Stylus ran during the 2009-2010 school year, somewhere in the ball park of $17,000; BSG could not produce the actual figure by press time (and the appropriations committee approved the legislation without it). The legislation reads, "If The Stylus does not end the 2010-2011 fiscal year with enough surplus cash to expense their debts and repay the debt to students and BSG, The Stylus will be considered delinquent … If The Stylus fails to repay $5,000 or more of their 2009-2010 debt by April 15, the Board of Directors will review the organization's status as a 'Priority Service.'"


The second piece of legislation is similar in that if another "delinquent organization" cannot repay its debts within one fiscal year, the board will also review its status as "Priority Service." But, it would also require a student organization to hand over money ­- any amount that exceeds 50 percent of the projected revenue ­- to BSG mid-year.


So, BSG would basically be stealing the money that a student organization made through its own advertising efforts.


Both pieces of legislation are absurd. The one related to The Stylus, however, is ridiculous. Why? Because it is BSG's fault we ran a deficit. The Stylus projected its ad revenue to be about $40,000 for the 2008-2009 school year. The advertising revenue dropped more than $20,000 from the 2006-'07 school year to the 2008-'09 school year, from $71,424 to $40,652. This was due in part to an ineffective business manager who was not doing her job (she was fired), but more so because of the state of the newspaper industry and the economy.  Our projected advertising revenue made sense, but BSG disapproved.


The final projected revenue, decided by BSG, was $57,730. The organization asked us to do the impossible: generate another $17,000-plus in advertising revenue in a recession. In other words, BSG's contribution to The Stylus was $17,730 less than what it should have been. Isn't it "ironic" how that number is the same, or pretty damn close, to the deficit we ran?


So now, BSG wants us to repay the money that we knew we could not generate in the first place. The money issue will be worked out, one way or another. A reasonable, annual repayment plan would seem to be the logical course to take, but we are not dealing with reasonable people here. And I don't mean BSG as a whole. I'm referring to a select few individuals. If you've been reading this column, you know who I'm talking about.


But aside from the debacle The Stylus has been put in, BSG is essentially threatening the free press, and by that, I mean student media organizations. If any student media organization is bumped down from a priority service (after its status is "reviewed"), it would not receive the monies it is currently privy too. And even if it did, the stringent club/organization purchase-order approval process would prevent it from operating the way it needs to. The Stylus would probably go exclusively online and have to reduce the size of its staff, resulting in a dramatic decrease in the quantity and quality of the reporting its staff members do.  


Please understand that the money allocated to The Stylus (and the other student Media) benefits the entire student body. Who is going to hold BSG or the college accountable for its actions if we are not operating in full capacity? Every full-time student pays BSG a mandatory fee of $96, so every student should care about the predicament the organization is putting the student Media in.


There's nothing concrete, yet. The legislation will be brought to the board Friday, Feb. 4 and is subject to revision, or it could even be voted down, God willing.


I urge all Brockport students to peacefully protest both pieces of legislation. Write letters. Make phone calls. Go to the BSG business office and ask to speak with your elected officials. Most importantly, come to the board meeting and express your opposition, or your support. Just speak up. Your right to know depends on it.

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