The UGA Student Government Association All Campus Allocation Committee—made up of members of SGA and UGA Student Affairs—informally voted to cancel the Collegiate Readership Program for the 2020 fiscal year due to the service already being offered to students.
Though the the cancellation means UGA students no longer have a digital subscription to The New York Times with their UGA email, UGA Libraries provides databases such as ProQuest and Access World News where students can access newspapers from all over the country. The UGA Main Library also offers access to print versions of several national publications up to seven days old.
Publications offered by UGA Libraries include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and USA Today. Articles are available in a text-based format, SGA Executive Director of Student Engagement Johanna Mercurio said, which is why the All Campus Allocation Committee voted to stop funding for the program.
SGA has sponsored the CRP for the past 10 years. In 2017, the program access extended to online versions of the publications “for accessibility of resources,” Mercurio said.
“We decided to end it this year because you’re paying for a service that the library already offers for free,” former SGA Treasurer Destin Mizelle said.
The All Campus Allocation Committee meets once a year to recommend the distribution of funds from the Student Activity Fee to organizations that process requests for funding and have met their budget requirements from the previous year, Mizelle said.
“The money normally granted to [the CRP] was re-allocated to students in another way," he said.
Online subscriptions to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal for this school year would have cost $78,540, according to current SGA Treasurer Nav Singh.
Mercurio and Mizelle confirmed The Wall Street Journal gave another year of free access in case the committee changed its mind. Students will be able to use the free subscriptions until May 2020.
Mizelle said the decision was not due to a lack of funds but rather a chance to utilize funds in a more responsible way.
“Since the resource was already available on campus, it would have been an irresponsible way to use student money,” Mizelle said. “I wouldn’t have made [the decision] if it wasn’t a collective ‘yes’ amongst [the committee].”
The $78 Student Activity Fee is charged to students’ accounts at the beginning of each semester.
The money from the activity fee is distributed to registered student organizations and administrative operations, including the University Union, the Hispanic Student Association, the Redcoat Band, the Center for Student Activities and Involvement and the Center for Leadership and Service.
On March 22, an Archnews survey was sent to students and included a question asking which publication students preferred: The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
Mizelle said this survey didn’t factor into the final decision to cancel the program because “only about 200 people actually completed the survey,” he said.
Mizelle made the decision to end the CRP in agreement with then-President Ammishaddai Grand-Jean and Vice President Charlene Marsh after ensuring they “were all in a collective understanding that this was the best thing to do,” Mizelle said.
While the library’s interface does provide students with free access to a variety of publications including local and national newspapers, the interface is not conducive for the ever-changing multimedia aspects in online articles.
For example, The New York Times reported on the campaign rally playlists of 2020 presidential candidates using moving graphics, overlays of sound from Spotify and images and videos from the campaigns. When logging on to the library’s database, students are only able to view a copy of text. They are missing out on photos, videos and other multimedia elements that have grown more common in recent years.
The online subscription cancellation confused students who returned to school in August and previously used the subscriptions to read daily national and international news, keep up with breaking coverage and research class assignments. They ended up not being able to access online publications beyond the allotted amount of free articles per month.
“That’s so sad,” sophomore geography major Mary Margaret Cozart said. “Personally, I would probably use the library resource. Ideally I want to support the news and make myself more informed, but I don’t tend to read the news that much to invest more in it.”
Cozart added the importance of reliable news sources “is vital to a comprehensive education,” she said. “Some students may decide, like SGA, to spend their money in other ways that have higher priority to them, but that’s when it’s the school’s turn to step in to make the news resources available to those students,” Cozart said.
The decision to cut the Collegiate Readership Program also came as a surprise to professors who encouraged students to use the free resource for their classes.
After being notified of the cancellation, journalism professor John Soloski, who has often taught the class “Media, News, and Consumers,” encouraged students to find reliable news sources that publish their ethics and policies online.
“The problem is students don’t go the extra step to verify their news,” Soloski said. “Credibility online is the issue. How do you know the information you’re getting is accurate?”