Campus Readership revisited
Student Government had grand plans to bring news and politics to students when a program to deliver hundreds of free copies of daily newspapers to campus began in June.
Six months later, SG’s interest in the Campus Readership program – which brings about 500 copies each of USA Today and the Tampa Tribune to USF every day – has languished.
The program, funded with up to $50,000 in student fees, lacks a system to determine whether it’s successful. Meanwhile, SG hasn’t received, paid or budgeted for any of the bills.
Invoices from USA Today have been going to the wrong mailbox on campus, and even though SG is contractually obligated to pay USA Today for the papers through August 2008, no money is allotted for the purpose.
SG business adviser David Armstrong, SG Executive Branch Chief of Staff Justin Hall and Emi Hiel, a regional marketing manager for USA Today, met Nov. 29 to discuss these concerns, but a week after their meeting, aspects of the program remain unaddressed.
Hall said the bills had since been rerouted, and that SG and USA Today were working on plans to better market the program and assess its success. SG received its first bill Wednesday and owes about $9,000.
Although USA Today provides monthly reports of how many newspapers were picked up at each stand – the number SG is charged for – Hall wasn’t sure what number would constitute success.
This was what concerned Armstrong when the program was seriously proposed in Fall 2006, after USA Today had already courted USF to start a readership program for several years.
“I wanted to see if it was successful or whether we were just giving out free newspapers,” Armstrong said. “If we’re going to provide certain numbers of USA Today, what would be considered successful?”
He said the only measure of success has been informal – whether the papers were still in the stands at the end of the day – so that consumption alone was considered success. Armstrong doesn’t think that’s enough.
“The goal is not to just make newspapers disappear – it’s to get people to be more informed about the world,” he said.
Both Armstrong and Hall attributed some of the confusion surrounding the program to staffing changes in SG earlier this semester.
Former Executive Branch Chief of Staff David Brickhouse, who originally spearheaded Campus Readership under then-President Frank Harrison’s administration, unofficially resigned from his post during the summer and failed to pass on his oversight responsibilities to other executive branch personnel, Hall said.
“We’ve been in transition,” Hall said, adding that, at the time, the program was “kind of on the back burner.”
He also explained that a numerical threshold for “success” was never established.
“There’s been no real number set on what we wanted,” Hall said.
An issue of fundingArmstrong said money for the program, up to $50,000 depending upon how many papers were read, was in place for the last fiscal year “on the premise it was implemented last year.”
But it wasn’t fully put in place until Summer 2007.
Because the term for the original contract would have expired in August 2007, the fledgling readership program would have had little time to materialize had the contract not been renewed in April 2006.
The contract renewal did not pass through the internal checks that normally ensure funding is in place for things like the readership program.
Instead, it was signed by Student Affairs Vice President Jennifer Meningall.
An SG staffer who declined to be named said that the first time he or she had ever seen the contract renewal was when the Oracle made a public records request for information about the program.
“Renewal should have been by the Senate and the Executive Branch in order to set aside money, then there should have been a (budget) request, and obviously, there hasn’t been,” the staffer said.
When SG receives a bill, the staffer explained, an individual in the Executive Branch has to go before the Senate and request the money. Though SG likely has enough money to cover USA Today’s bill, there’s no guarantee that the processes approving this use will be approved as it was last year.
“There’s money available, but we don’t currently have the authority to spend it on the program because it wasn’t budgeted,” the staffer said.
Meningall said she wasn’t sure how the budget and contract renewal processes worked, but thought she had followed the protocol for contract renewal.
“I really don’t know; I’m going to make the assumption that it was (followed),” she said. “By the time it comes to me, I’m relying on my staff to make sure it went through the proper channels.”
Director of Marketing and Public Affairs Meg Roberts, who will likely be responsible for marketing the readership program, said she will address some of these concerns, including developing a way of measuring success.
“Once we start a marketing campaign, we’re going to try and increase the number of people reading each day. We want students to get their news from a variety of sources,” she said. “Starting Spring semester, we want to students to know this is a service available to them.”
Victoria Bekiempis can be reached at (813 974-6299 or email@example.com.