University of Memphis Slashes School Paper Funding →

Jody Callahan at The Commercial Appeal:

Backers of the University of Memphis’s student newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, are alleging the publication suffered a sharp cut in funding because of its controversial coverage of the campus.

A seven-member committee voted this spring to slash funding for the Helmsman by a third. Whether that action violated the First Amendment as several allege may be a matter for the courts; the claim is rejected by U of M administrators.

The budget cuts come after the paper reported on two alleged on-campus rapes, which knocked coverage of a Student Government Association event out of the paper.

The SGA and the Helmsman have a long history of disagreements, and the group had members on the committee that voted to cut the paper’s funding. According to Dean of Students Steve Petersen, some members voted for “zero” funding to go to the newspaper.

I can’t imagine the paper covering something like alleged rapes have the school happy. But according to the CA, University counsel Sheri Lipman doesn’t believe that to be true:

“There are no facts that support that conclusion,” Lipman said. “Be sure you have your facts before you print that. That would be an incredibly wrong thing for us to do as an institution.”

To deal with the cutbacks, the Helmsman is looking at cutting back the size and number of editions, as well as paycuts to student staff members. The newspaper is provided to students and the surrounding community for free, with ads making up the rest of the income.

As an alumni of both the University of Memphis and The Daily Helmsman, this whole thing leaves me pretty angry. The newspaper — like all publications — is protected under the First Amendment, and no disgruntled SGA board member, Dean of Students or university big shot should have the power to change that.