Two years after the California Aggie went out of print, UC Davis’ campus newspaper appears poised to return to news racks this fall. Student voters narrowly approved a new fee last month that would subsidize the paper’s operations.
The century-old Aggie’s finances nosedived dramatically over the last decade as advertisers migrated to the Internet. In 2014, the paper decided to cancel its print edition.
While student journalists continue to write articles for online publication, Aggie editors argue that printing a newspaper gives the organization more credibility and relevance as a campus institution. Two attempts to restart printing failed after wrangling by student leaders, including a previous fee referendum that passed but ultimately was nullified due to procedural issues.
This time, the newly approved $11.19 annual fee appears to have the blessing of both students and university administrators. It is expected to take effect in fall quarter, pending customary approval by UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and UC President Janet Napolitano.
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“The vote is indicative that the student body wants to be informed,” said Editor in Chief Scott Dresser. “We shouldn’t be the only UC campus without a print newspaper.”
Dresser said his staff “campaigned like hell,” meeting with students and setting up a booth on the quad. Staffers also published a 100th anniversary commemorative issue to remind students what they were missing.
The fee initiative garnered 61.53 percent of the vote, narrowly surpassing the 60 percent requirement. The five-year fee will generate roughly $230,000 annually and provide the bulk of the Aggie’s revenue, allowing the paper to begin printing once a week and pay staffers for their work.
On a recent afternoon, the Aggie’s home in Lower Freeborn Hall was quiet, in contrast to the buzz of prior years when student journalists edited and designed the paper before it was sent to presses at the Davis Enterprise. In one corner, a dusty archive from 1984 was open, showing papers full of ads – in stark contrast to recent editions.
Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor of student affairs, voiced support for the Aggie, adding that it was a “critical time to have a student press, particularly in the context of an election year.” University officials had previously declined to fund the paper, fearing it could create a conflict of interest.
De la Torre said there was still a market for print on campus, noting that electronic textbooks haven’t taken off as expected. “It’s fairly effortless to pick up the paper and scan the news,” she said. “You can look at things differently with paper.”
Mariah Watson, president of the Associated Students of UC Davis, called the fee an investment, noting that having a printed product will likely raise the quality of work.
“There is something that is lost when it’s completely online. A lot of students didn’t even know there was a newspaper,” she said. “And, it’s permanent. You can’t go and white it out. This forces the journalists and editors to hold themselves to a higher standard.”
Responding to the dynamics of the Internet, the Aggie will continue to post breaking news online and push stories to readers via social media. The print edition, Dresser said, will feature unique in-depth content.
More importantly, the physical newspaper reminds the 30,000 undergraduate students that the Aggie exists and is still a “force” in the community, Dresser said.
“We don’t have 30,000 likes on our Facebook page,” he said. “But if they see us outside the dining and lecture halls, students are more likely to engage with the community and be informed.”