Senator’s comments reveal widely-held (and false) view on Sagebrush funding

In recent weeks, ASUN officials have been in a bit of a spit with the staff of the Nevada Sagebrush. Their anger isn’t unfounded: the paper has published several articles critical of the student government, ranging from an ongoing series criticizing the organization to a staff editorial proclaiming both candidates for ASUN President unfit for office. While in the past, Senators and other ASUN officials would complain privately about the Sagebrush, this new world of social media and online-oriented lifestyles means that comments made by certain senators are made available to anyone with a computer and the ability to take screenshots.

On that note, College of Liberal Arts Senator Taylor Snell has been on a warpath lately, commenting on the Sagebrush website and posting vague threats via Facebook of stripping funding from the Sagebrush. Three senators (MacCallister Higgins, Drew Sheehy and Jasper Allen Jacobs) liked the status, though it’s nigh impossible to decipher the intentioned meaning of a Facebook ‘like.’ If you don’t want to read the entirety of Snell’s writings, I’ve taken a few quotes from both posting, which still happen to be online:

Lovely, just fucking lovely. Here’s an idea you sad excuse for a writer; TALK TO THE SENATORS. CALL ME. There’s more that’s been done and gone under your blissful noses, and just because you idiots didn’t report on it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. (Nevada Sagebrush)

 As lovely as of a paper as it is, we should consider if it is ethically acceptable, on behalf of our constituents, to allocate the Sagebrush money and have them report on our behavior and workings in office. (Facebook)

Here’s something that Senator Snell should of considered before publicly denouncing the Sagebrush: ASUN doesn’t pay for the Sagebrush. I’ll repeat it, for clarification’s sake. ASUN gives no money directly to the Nevada Sagebrush. The staff themselves made the same point after criticism arose over the sexual awareness issue. No student fees go toward the production of the newspaper, whether that’s staff salaries or printing costs- all is covered by advertising revenue. (For additional clarification, Director of ASUN Sandra Rodriguez also posted on Facebook regarding the same topic.)

That being said, there are a few things ASUN helps support, which in turn also assist the Sagebrush. According to this session’s budget, tens of thousands of dollars go toward running and staffing the Publications and Advertising department, which does the legwork of finding advertisers and getting them to advertise in the Sagebrush. But the department also provides the same service for all other on-campus publications, (Insight, Wolf Pack Radio & Brushfire) and the paper provides a portion of the salary for the graduate assistant in charge of the program. ASUN also provides the office space in the Joe Crowley Student Union, pays for any computer updates needed, and pays for maintenance. So it’s safe to say that while the Sagebrush is mostly independent of the student government, it is still in some ways tied to ASUN.

For senators such as Snell, who would seek to cut whatever funding ASUN does provide that benefits the Sagebrush, I would strongly caution against. The Nevada Sagebrush has existed since 1893, and is the oldest student-run and student-operated organization in the state of Nevada. It’s won several Associated Collegiate Press awards for both it’s print product and website. Yes, the paper has made mistakes. I’ve written many times of the Sagebrush’s failings, from news judgment to lying in a graph to making unsupported statements on it’s front page. But I’ve never once called for the paper to lose funding or declare bankruptcy.

There’s a fine line between critiquing the Sagebrush and actively trying to censor it, and I fear Senator Snell has made it apparent that he supports the later. For anyone who has a problem with the Sagebrush, don’t passively make snarky comments on a Facebook group or insult a writer on a website: email the writer in question, or set up a meeting with the editor-in-chief. Or go visit their office- it’s in the ASUN section of the Joe Crowley Student Union, on the third floor.

I’m not saying that the Sagebrush should be free from criticism. If anything, it needs to take a look at itself as much as it claims ASUN needs to self-examine. But a disagreement over coverage shouldn’t prevent the operation of what has been the student voice of the University of Nevada, Reno for the past 119 years.

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4 thoughts on “Senator’s comments reveal widely-held (and false) view on Sagebrush funding

  1. Thank you for that, Riley. If it is worth anything, I would like to say that we at the Sagebrush appreciate the criticism you say we need and are self-examining ourselves in serious ways.

  2. Riley,

    First off, this is in no way an endorsement of Snell’s comments. However, I never shy away from a good budget discussion and your post is misleading by saying that “ASUN gives no money directly to the Nevada Sagebrush.”

    The plain fact is that ASUN does currently subsidize the Nevada Sagebrush. Let’s take a look at the ASUN budget to see why. Currently ASUN appropriates $50,160 to the Publications Advertising account. This account is responsible for doing all of the advertising for the Nevada Sagebrush, as well as the ASUN publications (Insight, Brushfire, Wolfpack Radio). In order to compensate ASUN for paying for this service, the Sagebrush gives ASUN a set amount each year.

    In years past, the Sagebrush would give ASUN $50,000 each year for providing this service. Although this makes it appear that the Sagebrush covered almost the entire cost of the account, the account used to be much more expensive, as it utilized a full professional staff person, rather than a graduate assistant, as it does now. For example, in the final version of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, ASUN allocated $82,190 for the Advertising department and the Sagebrush paid for $50,000 of that.

    For the last two years, the Sagebrush has continued to decrease its contribution to ASUN for the Advertising account, now contributing $20,500. As you can see with the past and current cost of the account and Sagebrush contribution, ASUN is left with ~ $30,000 whole to cover. What does ASUN get for picking up this tag? It gets advertising for its own publications, the Insight, Wolfpack Radio, and Brushfire, which also use the services of the Advertising department.

    Here is where things get interesting. If you add up the projected revenues for these three publications for the current fiscal year, you get $7,038.40. You don’t have to be a business major to see the problem here. After receiving the Sagebrush contribution, ASUN PAYS $30,000 TO RECEIVE $7,038.40 (caps added for emphasis, not because I’m yelling). It is obvious that ASUN doesn’t receive an adequate return on investment for the advertising department to rationalize its continued existence, but yet it continues to exist. Why is this? It is because the Nevada Sagebrush depends on ASUN paying more than its fair share of the Advertising Department. The Sagebrush depends on ASUN implicitly subsidizing its operations.

    If you disagree with my analysis, then have the Sagebrush take on the FULL cost of the Advertising department. ASUN would save over $20,000 annually, its publications wouldn’t have to waste space on advertisements–a win-win. if the Sagebrush in fact receives no substantial subsidy from ASUN, this move should have no effect on its operating budget. Spoiler alert: it will have a massive impact on its operations.

    I am not saying that ASUN should stop subsidizing the Sagebrush (although I believe a more transparent way would be better). However, saying that “No student fees go toward the production of the newspaper, whether that’s staff salaries or printing costs- all is covered by advertising revenue” is patently false. Student fees pay for ASUN which pays for the Advertising Department. And the Department does NOT recoup all of its costs. The students are responsible for making up the difference in funding.

    I know this issue can be confusing and not everyone “gets” the ASUN budget. If you have questions please email me at my personal email: matneb@gmail.com. I will try to remember to check back to this blog for comments, but no guarantees. I would welcome the Sagebrush doing a report on this issue and would gladly assist in whatever way I could.

    Mat Neben

    • First off Matt, I’d like to thank you for lending your voice to this conversation. I have not doubts regarding your knowledge of the ASUN budget, and I agree with you that becoming more transparent in regards to funding and whatnot needs to be further adressed by both ASUN and the Sagebrush.

      The point I was trying to make (and to be honest, it could be written more concisely) was that ASUN does not directly subsidize the Sagebrush, meaning that there’s no allocation of money toward wages for workers or printing costs found in the ASUN budget. What pays for those services is advertising revenue, which admittedly is subsidized by the student government.

      In regards to the Sagebrush’s reduced contribution toward the Advertising department, I was under the impression that the change from a full time professional staffer to a part-time graduate assistant was the reason for the change. I think the main issue, at least for the advertising department, is that former advertisers don’t have the same kind of advertising money that helped support the Sagebrush and other publications in the past. When I used to place ads on the template pages, just about every week saw the department fail to reach their fiscal goal.

      As it stands right now, the Sagebrush is independent from ASUN in all aspects other than the advertising department; that’s the point I’m trying to make. In a perfect world, the Sagebrush would have it’s own advertising department, completely separate from ASUN. But that’s not the case.

      It’s a conversation that’s worth having for the 80th session, and for students in general. Too bad the Sagebrush claims things like, “…we are maintained completely independent from the state, the student government and any other large-scale entity.”

      Again, I appreciate you commenting on my blog, and for giving another side to this issue. If I ever go back to the Sagebrush, I’ll keep in mind your offer to help flesh out the fiscal relationship between ASUN and the Sagebrush.

  3. Riley,

    I would say that Mat statements above really clarify the issue and I was unaware of the College of Liberal Arts Senator Taylor Snell being on a “warpath”. I would say that media as a whole should be completely independent of whomever they are reporting on. I would also say that the Sagebrush should ask its readers what they think about this issues.

    I would like to remind you and your colleagues that what you report on now could have negative affects long into the future, especially if it posted to the web. I would also say that Senators Snells comments are his own and do not reflect those who may “like” a statement. And I would also say that ASUN as a whole should consider ethical issues. No one is perfect and Nevada should be an institute for higher learning.

    Just some food for thought…

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