The California Aggie would have been 100 next year.
March 13, 2014 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Today, the UC Davis student newspaper, The California Aggie, put out its last print edition. The Aggie has been in dire straits for some time. Ad revenue started to plummet in 2009 and the paper has been working off of its reserve funds. Publication was cut from five days a week, to four days a week, to one day a week. Very few of the staff have been paid at all and those who were earned around $2 an hour. Despite the print change, the paper was due to run out of money by June 2014. Then came a last gasp, paper-saving measure: Measure 1, proposed for the winter 2014 ASUCD ballot, would add a $9.30 increase to student fees in order to subsidize the formerly independently run paper. But....

Twenty percent of the student body had to turn out to vote, and 60 percent of them plus one had to vote to support it, in order for the measure to pass. With the new fee, the Aggie would be able to publish two days a week and also during summer session, pay their staff, and hire two full-time employees to handle the business.
The Aggie went so far as to print a mostly-blank front page to point out what everyone would be missing if Measure 1 was not passed. Even Sacramento State, UCD's rival, pays $3 each semester towards their campus newspaper and came out in support of the measure.

However, there have been major problems with the writing of the measure itself. To quote from this article because dear lord, I can't keep it straight to summarize it:
"On Tuesday, Student Affairs representatives met with Associated Students of UCD senators during an emergency meeting to voice disapproval of language in the ballot measure.
Orpina said the bill’s authors were asked by Student Affairs to change responsibility for future oversight of fee revenue from the campus media board to the student fee advisory board. That oversight would include adjusting the fee for inflation.
She said she drafted the new oversight language by night’s end.
The administration also expressed concern that rules about informing the student body about the vote haven’t been followed.
“They’re angry that we didn’t follow policies and procedures that literally no one knew about,” Orpina said.
Tracy Bennett, Student Affairs comptroller, wrote in an email to the senate two days later that the ballot measure was being forwarded for review to the UC Office of the President, which has final say on the approval of new student fees.

One catch: Both UCD policy and ASUCD bylaws prohibit altering ballot measure with less than a week before the vote. So the unaltered language will appear on the ballot.
“If the students want to move forward, they have the prerogative to do that, but they won’t get any feedback from the (Office of the President) until Wednesday,” Associate Vice Chancellor Milton Lang said.
Meaning, students could approve the measure only to have it tossed out.
“If (the Office of the President) doesn’t think they can approve that, it would void the vote and (the students) would have to do a re-vote later in the spring,” Lang said.
“It sounds to me as though we cannot amend the current referendum,” said senator Gareth Smythe, a co-author of the bill that introduced the ballot measure. “We passed it; it’s up to the students now.”
Adding to the confusion, on the first day of voting, the elections website was messed up and caused some people to accidentally abstain from voting on the measure.

Supposedly of the 26,000 undergraduates, 27 percent participated, with 72.92 percent voting in favor of the measure. However, the fee still has to be approved by UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and UC President Janet Napolitano, who can still elect to change it or throw it out.

But despite the measure passing, the Aggie had to print its last paper edition today. Current editor-in-chief Elizabeth Orpina had to make an announcement she never wanted to make:
"Yes, after a couple of weeks, the Office of the President finally has the Vice Chancellor and Chancellor-approved referendum. But guess what: Spring Quarter tuition and fees have already been issued. In the language of the bill, it is explicitly stated that the funds would have come into play in the spring."
Does that mean that the Aggie is only temporarily paper-free until the fall? According to former Aggie editor-in-chief Janelle Bitker.... well, the Aggie is in even worse trouble than we thought:
" On Wednesday night, the Court of the Associated Students of UC Davis convened due to a lawsuit filed by student Gloria Chen against the ASUCD Elections Committee. The court determined that the Elections Committee incorrectly stated the fee referendum had passed. And therefore, the court reverses all actions that resulted from the “erroneous announcement.”
It remains unclear whether this verdict actually does anything. The court states that its official verdict will be publicly explained April 2. But it also “mandates” that the Elections Committee “must” conduct another election in the spring, essentially asking students to vote again on the exact same measure.
The referendum needed a 20 percent voter turnout and more than two-thirds of students to vote “yes.” Chen claimed that the committee shouldn’t have counted abstentions in the turnout figure, and that there are conflicting numbers of total undergraduate students at UC Davis. According to one figure, The Aggie did get more than 20 percent to vote, but according to another figure, it only got 19 percent.
Chen recently ran for ASUCD senate and lost. She also tweeted that "I will destroy you and make sure you never see your 100th birthday."

The Aggie joins schools such as Florida A&M, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Franklin and Marshall College in being forced to go to online-only status. Students may prefer printed newspapers to online ones, but that is rapidly becoming a lost option. Unless they want to start their own, anyway. Which has been tried at Davis within the last year, but the publications quickly disappeared or ran out of advertising money.

The California Aggie was last mentioned on Metafilter extensively during the pepper spray incident in November 2011. We won't be seeing the likes of this sort of investigation again any time soon.
posted by jenfullmoon (36 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe someone can pass the hat at picnic day.

posted by tilde at 7:34 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think this is awful, but I also have to say that the Aggie was awful. Up until a year or so ago, it was literally an 8-page paper with almost zero content. Then they beefed it up, and it got better, but there hasn't really been a tradition of it being important on campus for as long as I've worked at UCD. I can compare that to UT-Austin's Daily Texan, which I read every day as an undergrad.

The Aggie should exist, and should be revived, but it should also be revived as something worth printing. (Especially since the other local paper, The Davis Enterprise, is also worthless.)

This is a chance -- a good chance -- to create a good paper. UC Davis deserves a good paper. I hope that's what comes out of this.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:44 PM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

(Oh, and when the Aggie was published daily, there was always a copy of it on the table in our breakroom. It was customary to read the Aggie while microwaving one's lunch. Problem was, it took less time to read the paper than it did for the microwave to ding. THAT'S how thin the thing was.)
posted by mudpuppie at 7:47 PM on March 13, 2014

Despite the last minute mess the writing had been on the wall for many years. Not good to see a tradition die, but it was hardly a capricious and sudden occurence.

No matter how well they may recover I hope they continue to skip the print edition entirely. The world has too many dead trees, and that's the sort of thing I would expect UCD to lead in.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:54 PM on March 13, 2014

I'm mystified why this Gloria Chen person has such an issue with the paper's continued existence. Does she blame the paper for making her lose?
posted by Aleyn at 8:05 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the only reason anybody ever preferred printed at my school was that they were absolutely everywhere, and they were a popular choice for flipping through in the hallway when you were bored waiting for class to start. Maybe for the same purposes they could post a QR link to the paper's website at various places around campus to remind people to go have a look now and then.
posted by Sequence at 8:06 PM on March 13, 2014

"I will make sure you never see your 100th birthday?"
posted by infinitewindow at 8:26 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm mystified why this Gloria Chen person has such an issue with the paper's continued existence. Does she blame the paper for making her lose?

That's what I keep wondering. It seemed out of nowhere. And it's kinda disturbing.

infinitewindow: she's threatening to get rid of the newspaper before it hits 100 years. Which apparently she just fucking did all by herself?!

I used to work for the Enterprise back in college--ironically the Aggie wouldn't hire me :P The Enterprise always had funding/getting advertising issues back in the day, and I know they've laid off me and almost everyone I knew that worked there (that didn't leave on their own) by now. Both papers pretty much have the same problem of NO MONEY means thin, small papers. And sometimes there has been a long-ass delay between something happening on campus and it making it to the Aggie paper, and that was when they were publishing daily. And yet I root for them anyway because I vastly prefer newspapers to watching the hell of TV news, and where else am I going to hear about what's going on here? Maaaaaybe the Bee, but they're having the same problems too.

What bugs me especially about this--you know, besides the politics and the vicious paper-killing tweet and the confusing political drama and lack of money--is that it's the Aggie websites that have always made me crazy. I swear, they devolve with every "upgrade," and they scrap their archives every time they upgrade, and doing searches on the website will make you cry. It took me a lot of work and creative search terming and finally resorting to using Google to find the damn Aggie links I put into this (the last one about the failing newspapers in particular was difficult to find). They're not super great at updating during the summer as they claim, and I can't help but think that they are just not equipped to be an online-only newspaper and that the entire enterprise (har) will die out very quickly.

I've been reading Janelle Bitker's reports on the situation now that she's graduated and moved on to the SN&R and find them to be very poignant. But man, I had no idea it was THAT bad until I read the final article today, hence this post.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:31 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

What's up with student unions and their "judicial" branch? We had that at Concordia and it was just an extra source of bullshit. None of the unions at French-language institutions had those types of institutions. They were mostly run as nonprofit organizations, with a Council serving as the Board and an Executive. If you had a conflict you could try to go to a real court or call a general assembly.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:38 PM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

(which, of course, is a bit of a problem at a gigantic institution)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:42 PM on March 13, 2014

Junior bureaucrats gonna bureaucrat.
posted by spitbull at 8:57 PM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, this is an inconceivable amount of bureaucracy for student government.

Apparently the Chen didn't show up for the Aggie's student government candidate interviews, and so the paper didn't endorse her.

Shame really, because like most student government candidates in your better universities and middle schools she seems like a solid candidate. I would've gone for pop machines in the hallways as part of my platform but this seems good too.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:04 PM on March 13, 2014

Aw jeez, the California Aggie was a major fixture of my journalism dreams before and during college at UCD. Lot of history here.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:10 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Meant to post this link.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:11 PM on March 13, 2014

jenfullmoon, I got that. I guess my point was "Who talks like that to a newspaper?"
posted by infinitewindow at 9:42 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wait... The students who worked on the paper got paid? did I misunderstand that?
posted by maryr at 10:02 PM on March 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

A student politician? They tend to have a bit of an adversarial relationship, in my experience.

The California Aggie was pretty cheap to print, apparently only around $50,000 per year in 2011-2012, according to the budget estimates on the ASUCD Website. I remember we had about half that budget back in my small weekly student paper. With around 26,000 students, that's $240,000!

Yes, the students were paid (not very much, at least not in the last few years). It's how it's done at certain student papers.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:06 PM on March 13, 2014

For money reference, tuition & fees at UC Davis is $13,902 for residents and $36,780 for non residents. Residents whose parents have a revenue of less than $80,000 can take advantage of the Blue and Gold program and pay no tuition or fees. The fees are quite high, at $2676, which is almost what I paid for tuition and fees in Quebec. The fees include stuff like student union dues and bullshit "campus development" stuff.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:29 PM on March 13, 2014

$2 an hour is a good approximation of what they'll make as freelance journalists after they graduate, actually.
posted by dontjumplarry at 11:20 PM on March 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

As I get older, I trend towards the view that operations like the Aggie that can't survive without a heaping dollop of earmarked student fees, shouldn't survive. If the measure had passed in time to save the print edition, you'd have only the continuation of an increasingly irrelevent form of a basically irrelevent media outlet, for reasons that amount to nostalgia.

Were I a student there, I wouldn't care about the $9. It's that organizations that survive like this are like mosquitos trapped in amber: student clubs with sinecure funding, usually hostage to whatever clique is bored enough to move in en masse. If nothing else, converting to an effective web operation offers the Aggie a shot at actual media relevance with meaningful work experience.
posted by fatbird at 11:44 PM on March 13, 2014

ms. chen's communication style is refreshing. you don't have to guess what she's about.
posted by bruce at 3:58 AM on March 14, 2014

Depressing. Great post, though.
posted by polly_dactyl at 5:50 AM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the missing side of the story is that "student fees," which used to be a few bucks for lab and gym and health services, a small burden on top of tuition, are the new profit center for strapped public institutions (and many private ones that have met serious price resistance points with their published tuition rates and a competitive environment for students who can "afford" full price at a liberal arts college, especially). I am totally unsurprised that student politicians would seize on an obviously anachronistic and arguably fairly indulgent use of those fees, newly added to the already burdensome total, as a symbol of how corrupt the "fee" scam has become. And I am not unsympathetic. Print newspapers are dying all over the country; the format is absolutely in buggy whip territory at this point, and tying the Aggie's reputation to the print format is dumb, especially given the long slide in quality.

/two siblings who are UCD grads, one a professional journalist
posted by spitbull at 6:16 AM on March 14, 2014

They were PAID?

I worked for a while at a fine daily college paper and as far as I know, the only compensation was for the people who were standing around when the daily takeout-food-for-display-ad swap delivery arrived.

Paid? *shakes head*
posted by wenestvedt at 6:19 AM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the missing side of the story is that "student fees," which used to be a few bucks for lab and gym and health services, a small burden on top of tuition, are the new profit center for strapped public institutions

UMass has amazing fees. Highlighted by the $4707.00 Curriculum Fee.
posted by smackfu at 6:23 AM on March 14, 2014

UMass has amazing fees. Highlighted by the $4707.00 Curriculum Fee.

As anyone familiar with the UC system (which didn't have tuition until recently) will know, that's how you raise tuition without raising tuition.

$9/student is a pretty significant fee for being something benefits one entity. On the other hand, I'd be more inclined to look positively upon it as it'd be going to something which is not a university entity*, unlike many of the bullshit fees. (I have to cough up $12/semester to fund the fucking football stadium.)

*If I understood the articles correctly, this is the case for the Aggie, though not for most university newspapers.
posted by hoyland at 6:47 AM on March 14, 2014

In at least one state I know, public universities are not allowed to raise tuition without approval from the state legislature. Thus, fees are becoming a becoming an ever larger component of your actual tuition where:

actual tuition = "tuition" + fees
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:09 AM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked for a while at a fine daily college paper and as far as I know, the only compensation was for the people who were standing around when the daily takeout-food-for-display-ad swap delivery arrived.

My own stint at a similar college paper didn't even give me that. It was a weekly column which required me only to turn up for about an hour the day before it ran, type everything into the computer, and leave. Great practice and exposure (and you learn about writing right quick when you have friends bold enough to say to you, "so, read your column today...that one took you only 3 minutes to write, didn't it?"), but no pay, and all the free food was gone by the time I got there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:16 AM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

UCDavis was the first UC that the students voted to raise their own fees for things. Lots of info on the various fees here. At one point Davis was the most expensive UC to attend as an undergrad due to all of these fees.

I was a bit proud of the Aggie for publishing an expose on a secret society on campus the day before Picnic Day in 1993. So copies of it were all over during the campus's huge annual open house.

I attended UCD when the whole student government was reorganized to resemble the federal government with three branches in the 90's, etc... It sorta seemed important at the time. All of the judicial fighting seems to reflect on the passion about things that college students can display because everything matters so damn much. I guess time and distance had made me see all of this from a different perspective where I see the student government as a typical college thing of doing grown up things in a safer environment. Even if the student government in this case has a budget in the millions of dollars annually.
posted by Badgermann at 8:28 AM on March 14, 2014

Yes, we were paid to work at the Aggie. And why not? It was a paper that averaged 16-24 pages, five days a week, in the early '90s. That's a lot of editing and proofreading, and the production quality during those years was award-winning high. Volunteer work there would've cranked out volunteer quality. The editors in chief were paid the most, perhaps $3000 a year? And they earned it.... significant income, covered the bulk of tuition more or less. Former editors in chief in that span today work as well-known sports journalists (Daniel Brown, Howard Beck), and holding a senior reporter position there was basically the equivalent of an undergrad journalism degree, complete with occasional seminars from professional metro journos. You could write your ticket to most newspapers after a decent stint at the Aggie.

I'm sad the print edition is going, but I have mixed feelings about dead-tree editions these days. All my newsreading is online. I might read the local metro paper in print once a month or two, and usually only if it's left about in a coffeeshop or the like when I'm in town. I guess I'm more sad that the online edition and its archives have been neglected, and that an important voice for the campus is going silent.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 10:34 AM on March 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Wait... The students who worked on the paper got paid? did I misunderstand that?

They were PAID? ... Paid? *shakes head*

Pff. Can you actually spell out a reason why they shouldn't have gotten paid, beyond some sort of "Well, back in my day..." statement? It's not uncommon for staff members at independent student newspapers to be paid some small amount for their contributions. Moreover, The California Aggie is/was a financially independent student-run business (though it sounds like this measure might have changed that arrangement).

Read the fine print at the bottom of its website:

The California Aggie is an entirely student-run publication. It is also financially independent, receiving no direct monetary support from ASUCD or the university, aside from using its offices rent-free. The Aggie publishes on Thursdays with a circulation of 10,000 papers at over 100 distribution points on the UC Davis campus and in the city of Davis. Without a journalism program at UC Davis, The Aggie provides the best hands-on, on-campus experience for students interested in journalism, reporting and other aspects of newspaper design and production.

The independent student newspaper I edited in college had the same setup—the paper's only financial connection to our university was our rent arrangement for on-campus offices, and my staffers and I got paid some small amount every two weeks. I'm not sure why that's so outrageous to some people. People should get paid for their work, even if they're students, especially if it affords them entry to a field that isn't formally taught as a subject at that school. I work as an editor now, but I wouldn't have gotten there without my experience running the student newspaper in college.

We have enough people in creative fields who are willing to be exploited and work for nothing. We should be teaching student journalists, photographers, and illustrators that their work is valuable and they deserve to be paid for it.
posted by limeonaire at 10:58 AM on March 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Pff. Can you actually spell out a reason why they shouldn't have gotten paid, beyond some sort of "Well, back in my day..." statement?

I didn't read that as a statement that they shouldn't have gotten paid, but rather as a remark of surprise that it was possible to get paid for a student newspaper.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can tell you we didn't get paid very much at The Aggie back in the early 2000s. Something like $1/column inch if you were a writer, $7/hour for hourly positions, and $70-100ish/week if you were a manager/on the editorial board. And this was back when it was daily, so there were excessively long hours for the paychecks some of us got.

Thanks for the post, OP, as horrible as it is to read about. My three years at The Aggie taught me so much about journalism, editing, and people that it had a bigger impact on my life than college itself. It was stressful, it was painful, it was the hardest thing and the greatest thing and the craziest thing some of us had ever done. After management positions shuffled at the end of the year, some of us still found our way back down to the windowless basement office because we just didn't know what to do with ourselves once our obligations ended. And at the end of it all, we had something solid for our resumes -- I know I wouldn't be where I am now in my career if I hadn't worked at that scrappy, soul-sucking newspaper. I will never find another job quite like it and, a decade on, that still makes me sad.

And, right, the actual newspaper? We all took that for granted. It was just the thing that magically happened every night, no matter what. I'm still not sure how we managed. It was always there the next day. It was a campus fixture, even if people only cared about the crossword. It just was. And now it's not? I don't understand. I feel like the print edition of The Aggie deserves a more dignified end than this.

Future generations of UCD students are being deprived of something great, even if lately it seemed a lesser version of its former self. I hope something works out and this isn't the drastic end it seems to be.
posted by phatkitten at 12:07 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was always disappointed with the quality of the articles in the Aggie. There was never any substance. I only ever saw it used for the Sudoku. And there was a witty weather forecaster one year.

I was frequently impressed with the investigative jounalism in the Sacramento alt weekly, the SN&R.

I wish I had learned about the Davis Vanguard earlier in my stay in Davis. Some quality articles and conversation seem to come out of that website.
posted by aniola at 1:46 PM on March 14, 2014

I've worked on a paper where everyone was a volunteer, and at another where editors were paid a small stipend. Each has its advantages, I think. Paid staff are certainly more invested on average and so they take things seriously and don't slack off. But it creates a certain formality and exclusiveness that made the atmosphere not as good as at the paper with an all-volunteer crew.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:45 PM on March 14, 2014

EmpressCallipygos: I didn't read that as a statement that they shouldn't have gotten paid, but rather as a remark of surprise that it was possible to get paid for a student newspaper.

Yes, thank you: that's exactly what I meant. :7)

No one shows up at the campus newspaper's office to get rich, but it sure would have been nice to get something for my work. The writers got a byline and built a portfolio, but the production staff stayed late and didn't get much credit. *shrug* We were there for the fun, mostly. Oh, wait, we also got a t-shirt for the softball game against the other campus (and so, so inferior) publication The Observer.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:30 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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