Mirror, mirror

Andrew Sheeler / Editor-in-Chief
March 8, 2011

The hardest thing a newspaper can ever do is report on itself. It is an incredible challenge to report evenly and unbiased when the subject of your reporting is looking back at you in the mirror. There’s a mantra in journalism: report the news, don’t become the news. The Sun Star can no longer afford that luxury.

The Sun Star is expected to post a deficit by the end of Fiscal Year 2011 in June. The size of the deficit is the subject of much debate. Reports from the university’s Banner program project the Sun Star to end the year as much as $26,000 in the red. Our own estimates, compiled from budget records we keep in house, place us in debt at less than half of that. Here’s what that means.

Every year, we receive seven percent of the ASUAF Student Government fee. This fee varies by how many students attend, but for the 2010–11 school, year we expected to receive a total of $32,000. The remainder of our budget comes from advertising, which we estimated in August would be a little more than $19,000 for the entire year.

There is plenty of blame to assign for what went wrong, and I’ll start by assigning some of it to myself. As editor of the Sun Star, it is my responsibility to make sure the Sun Star remains within its means. That clearly did not happen. According to the Sun Star governance agreement, fiscal responsibility is shared equally between the editor and the paper’s Publication Board. Therefore, some of the blame can be placed on each member of the board, which includes two journalism faculty members, the ASUAF President, an ASUAF senator and a member of the community who is approved by the other members of the board.

Then there’s the lack of financial reporting by ASUAF’s Executive Officer. The first report that I saw as editor was in December, after I had independently determined that the Sun Star was in financial trouble. However, the report I received contained inaccurate information however, as did the one I received in January and again in February. Sometimes these inaccuracies amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. Compounding the problem, we still do not know if the Sun Star received the approximately $7,000 in funds that ASUAF allotted to it for summer operation in 2010. How can that much money go unaccounted for?

There are other contributing factors: the student wage increase, an industry-wide downturn in advertising and an expensive transition to the Sun Star’s first fully functional and consistently updated website and social media presence.

It’s easy to place blame, but doing so is not productive. Mistakes were made. I am a student just like you. Mistakes are part of learning. What’s more important is dealing with the situation at hand.

Since discovering our budget troubles, I have taken a pay cut. I have slashed the hours of Sun Star employees and eliminated some positions. I have run the Sun Star in the most conservative manner possible, sticking with 12-page issues, the cheapest option, as much as possible. The Sun Star has kept rigorous track of its budget figures.

However, the Sun Star’s budget and fiscal projections need to be resolved. Our numbers and the Executive Officer’s numbers must be reconciled. It is irresponsible to make any lasting decisions regarding the Sun Star until a clear view of our numbers is available. As important as it is that the Sun Star receives necessary funding from the student government, the ASUAF senate should resist voting on Sun Star legislation until they have an accurate set of numbers from the Executive Officer.

Once we have that concrete information, it is important that ASUAF pass legislation to fund the Sun Star through the rest of the year. This legislation can take many forms, and I invite the ASUAF senators to work with the Sun Star on how that can happen. The one thing this legislation must not be is retaliatory. Senators should not let past editorials and coverage bias their decision on supporting the Sun Star. It doesn’t matter what I wrote because this is not about me. This is about the students of UAF. This is about giving voice to the voiceless, which is the Sun Star’s mission. I urge the senators to take that in to consideration. The UAF students, faculty and staff deserve as much.

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