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SOU student newspaper gets financial reprieve

Editors of The Siskiyou, Southern Oregon University’s 93-year-old student newspaper, say they are relieved by a student government committee’s decision to fund most of their budget request for the next school year.

“It’s just super relieving after all that work we put into it,” said Autumn Micketti, co-editor-in-chief of The Siskiyou, which has been a digital-only publication since 2012.

“I’m proud of us, too,” said Emmy Rawley, her counterpart.

News that the Student Fee Allocation Committee, housed within the Associated Students of SOU, voted to recommend a $3,000 budget for The Siskiyou capped a tense 11 days since it initially made a $0 recommendation.

During most of that time, Rawley and Micketti had rallied Siskiyou staff and alumni to appeal the initial recommendation from the committee, in between schoolwork and multiple interviews with local media outlets.

“I’m really grateful people are so supportive of student journalism,” Micketti said.

The $3,000 funding recommendation, which will need to be approved by the ASSOU Senate next, still places The Siskiyou $897 short of its initial request. Micketti said she thought the paper could make up some of the difference by selling advertisements.

That kind of outside revenue source was one of the SFAC’s top priorities as it faced a budget deficit with no decrease in service requests this year, said Olivia Bozarth, vice president and chair of the committee.

“This is the first year when the end (of the process) has felt so bad,” she said.

ASSOU President Britney Sharp said the budget deficit this year is about $310,000, the result of steep declines in enrollment the past two years.

The Siskiyou budget wasn’t the only one potentially on the chopping block with SFAC’s initial recommendation. The newspaper was able to recover funding, however, because it appealed.

Rawley and Micketti spoke at a public hearing Feb. 18, and two days later, submitted a packet of written testimony from alumni, staff and community members on the value of the student media organization.

According to ASSOU bylaws, the committee could only adjust a funding decision if the group appealed its allotment, as The Siskiyou did, Bozarth said.

In addition, “in the case of The Siskiyou, their appeal was convincing,” she said.

Another factor that boosted the newspaper’s funding was a $1,500 offer from the Athletics Department, which is also funded through SFAC. Even though the department also saw a budget cut, it offered to push $1,500 to the newspaper, citing its value, Rawley and Micketti said.

SFAC then allocated another $1,500 to The Siskiyou. Another budget, requested by the Oregon Student Association, was gutted. Now that group will have seven days to appeal, Bozarth said.

“This year is definitely a tough year,” she said.

The uncertainty caused by fluctuations in student enrollment are one reason Rawley and Micketti, as well as faculty within the Communications Department, are talking about ways The Siskiyou can find a more reliable funding structure.

The Siskiyou has found itself under threat of losing funding three times in the past 10 years.

Erik Palmer, who heads the department, said he would make sure The Siskiyou could continue in some capacity, even after the initial zero-funding possibility.

Creating additional courses specifically around The Siskiyou would be impractical, he said. Such a class has already been dropped before.

Instead, he said, he would consider ways to link The Siskiyou into existing courses.

“We already offer some extra credit options,” said Palmer, who is teaching at the University of Ghana on a Fulbright scholarship this school year. “Maybe we can create Siskiyou teams in our existing social media and entrepreneurship courses that establish new opportunities for aspiring journalists.”

“What is hard for most people to see here is the struggle to balance the independence of student media with an optimal funding model,” he said.

The additional funding from ASSOU, Palmer said, “helps to buffer the student newspaper from administrative control.”

For now, Rawley and Micketti are looking into ways to expand their revenue outside of SOU budgets, working their community connections and selling ads.

“We’re really hoping with this surge in publicity more students will be interested, and hopefully, we’ll get more people,” Micketti said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Siskiyou co-editors Emiliana Rawley, left, and Autumn Micketti are photographed in the Hannon Library where they run the nearly 100-year-old newspaper at Southern Oregon University. The two are fighting to keep the Siskiyou alive after learning it will no longer be funded by student fees. Photo by Denise Baratta