After overcoming neglect and debt, the Collegiate Readership Program is back on its feet and might add another newspaper to its line-up: The New York Times.
The Student Government Department of Academic and University Affairs (AUA) has set up stacks of the Times around campus to find out if students want to add the newspaper to the program. The Times will be available until Oct. 3.
The program currently offers free copies of USA Today and the Tampa Tribune. SG will conduct surveys to assess how big of an impact this has on students.
Stacks of the Times can be found in open-air bins. Each of the white display cases that holds free editions of the Tampa Tribune and USA Today is equipped with an ID-card reader. However, AUA may replace those cases with open-air bins to make it easier for students to grab a newspaper.
Students taking their ‘Times’
AUA has put 200 editions of the Times on campus, and almost all of them are getting picked up, said Maja Lacevic, director of AUA. During its first week, SG distributed about 1,300 copies of the Times and 1,296 were taken, Andrew Cohen, coordinator for AUA, said in a senate meeting.
To continue the Collegiate Readership Program, SG must prove to USA Today every semester that the program is working and worth continuing.
USA Today coordinates all aspects of the readership program. Newspapers are delivered each morning to campus and placed in the displays, which are regularly maintained by USA Today staff. The staff also collects the leftover editions in the displays as part of the recycling efforts that support the program, according to usatoday.com.
To determine success, SG will use PDAs provided by USA Today to survey students about the program. Student senators are monitoring the number of ID cards swiped in the white boxes to determine how many people on campus are utilizing the program, Sen. Matthew Diaz said.
“The time and date — as well as the logistics of the survey — are still to be determined,” Lacevic said. “However, we are hoping to conduct the survey close to the middle of the semester, but not during midterm week.”
Though awareness of the program has increased at USF, SG and USA Today don’t have a solid idea of what students want out of the program, said Heidi Zimmerman, USA Today director of communications.
“The number of newspapers being picked up by students has nearly doubled from this point last year to this year,” Zimmerman said. “We are working with SG to develop a survey to get a sense of the students’ appetites for the news and to gauge their attitude toward the program.”
A matter of money
SG wants to add the Times to its contract with USA Today but will not make a final decision until it sees the results of the survey and determines whether it can afford supplying another newspaper, Lacevic said.
The cost of the program depends on how many newspapers are taken, Cohen said, and right now the funding comes solely from SG, though AUA is searching for other avenues of funding.
SG allotted a maximum of $25,000 for the program this semester, said Senate President Juan Carlos Soltero.
USA Today charges only for the newspapers taken from the displays. If $800 worth of newspapers are taken, that’s what SG is charged.
The readership program at USF had been in the works for a few years, Lacevic said, and it came to fruition last fall.
It encountered problems last year when David Brickhouse left the position of chief of staff.
Brickhouse spearheaded the program under then-President Frank Harrison’s administration. SG didn’t have anyone to put in charge during the transition, and the program was neglected.
“No one was checking up on (the program), and we ended up owing money,” Soltero said.
USA Today considers billing issues between itself and USF confidential, Zimmerman said. USA Today shares the burden of administrative issues with schools when programs are getting off the ground.
SG is no longer in USA Today’s debt, Soltero said, and it was able to get the Times for free this semester as a tryout.
Further funding woes
Over the summer, however, the program was subject to another problem: the possibility of not getting funded.
“The Activity and Service (A&S) Fee Recommendation Committee (ASRC) decided not to fund it at the time and wait until further information was acquired,” Soltero said.
Since SG pays for the program, it is supported by A&S fees, and ASRC determines every year who gets this money and how much each entity gets. Students pay $8.79 per credit hour in A&S fees, plus a $7 flat fee.
Because students can access any of these newspapers online for free, some SG members wondered whether it was worth spending thousands on the program, Soltero said.
The SG senate voted on whether to keep the program going. The votes were split, and the program was ultimately kept, Diaz said.
Determining the program’s impact
Though student consumption increased between fall 2007 and fall 2008, SG was concerned about assessing how the newspapers were being used.
“We discussed their issues at length, and they decided to fund the program for the fall 2008 semester in order to give students continued access to the newspaper and to allow the program to build momentum,” Zimmerman said. “One way in which we are able to get a sense of students’ attitudes and readership habits is through a survey.”
At the end of this semester, AUA will assess the success of the program after SG surveys students on campus.
If the assessment is successful, then the program will continue, Soltero said.
USA Today has partnered with more than 300 newspapers to bring this program to campuses nationwide. A college campus can choose up to three newspapers to distribute at no charge to students, most often USA Today, a local publication and a regional publication, according to usatoday.com.
Pennsylvania State University President Dr. Graham Spanier developed the Collegiate Readership Program in 1997, according to usatoday.com. His program serves as a model that is now emulated on nearly 500 campuses all over the country.