Alternative campus papers thriving against all odds
De-funded campus papers top Alternative Press Awards
July/August 2002

The results from this year's Campus Alternative Journalism Awards are in, and the conclusions are unexpected: some of the best papers have the least financial support. This year's runner-up for best publication of the year--City College of New York's The Messenger--only got $50 from its student government last semester. The winner--Boston University's Student Underground--didn't get one penny.

Why not? Because solid investigative reporting rankled the wrong administrators. At BU, the administration banned funding publications that print opinion pieces after The Student Underground's predecessor, The Exposure, caught the school trading admission for large donations. At City College of New York, the administration dissolved the graduate student government after a progressive slate won elections, and downgraded The Messenger--which had caught the administration using hidden camera equipment to surveil the student government--from an official graduate student publication to an undergraduate club.

In a contest that pitted them against publications that get over $20,000 a year from their student governments, both papers came out on top. Student Underground actually took two prizes: one for "Best Publication," and one for "Best Reporting on Gender and Sexism" for its expos, of the administration's gross mishandling of a campus rape case. The Messenger, which has earned distinction by blowing the whistle on local police abuses and watchdogging the City University of New York administration, had a story about the FBI's detention of a Syrian student picked up by Pacifica's Democracy Now! and syndicated by the Independent Press Association's Voices That Must Be Heard Project.

How do they pull it off? Student Underground throws fundraisers, sells donated books, and cuts advertising deals with other student groups The Messenger raises $500-$700 a semester from faculty members and readers. It averages a paltry $100 per issue from advertising sales. And when it's time to pay the printer, the staff makes up the difference out of their own wallets. The Messenger does get free office space through the college-a windowless room in an unrenovated building in Harlem without computer equipment, internet access, or outgoing phone service. "We do layout in the computer labs, when they're open," says Hank Williams, the paper's editor. "Basically, our office is my laptop."

"Funding battles have shut down more campus papers than we'll ever know," Edwards-Tiekert admits. In a battle spanning over 15 years, right-wing organization have bankrolled attacks on the student fee funding system. Conservatives claim it's unconstitutional for universities to collect mandatory fees that fund political activity. Though the Supreme Court ruled such fees constitutional in the 2000 Southworth decision, many campuses had already re-structured their fee allocation systems to head off controversy. Few student organizations have felt the impact more than the scrappy activist rags and ethnic zines that flourish in a campus environment.

2002 Campus Alternative Journalism Awards

Winner, Best Campus Alternative Publication on a Shoestring Budget
The Student Underground (Boston University)

Runner-up, Best Campus Alternative Publication on a Shoestring Budget
The Messenger (City College of New York)

Best Campus Alternative Publication with a Budget over $10,000
Rearguard (Portland State University)

Best 9-11 Coverage
The Gainesville Iguana (University of Florida, Gainesville)

Best Reporting
Street Forum (Stanford University)

Best Coverage of Race and Racism
X (University of California, Berkeley)

Best Coverage of Gender and Sexism
The Student Underground (Boston University)

Best Opinion Writing
The Protest (Northwestern University)

Indy (Illinois State University)

Best Design
Street Forum (Stanford University)

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