The Windsor Star: UWSA pulls the plug on The Lance; print publication to cease immediately

[Windsor Star – Claire Brownell] UPDATE: The UWSA board of directors has scheduled a meeting to discuss the situation for 4:30 p.m. today in council chambers on the second floor of the CAW Student Centre. The meeting is open to the public.

The Lance, the University of Windsor’s 85-year-old student newspaper, has been ordered to shut down the presses immediately.

The outgoing board of directors of the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance voted to stop publishing print editions and start publishing The Lance online only, during a meeting last week, without warning or consulting with the paper. UWSA general manager Dale Coffin recommended the board take action based on the paper’s February statement of earnings, which show it was $24,000 in the red at the end of that month.

But Lance editor-in-chief Natasha Marar said that figure is misleading because it doesn’t take advertising sales from March and April into account. Marar said The Lance is poised to end the year with a deficit of about $7,000, an amount she called “minor” and easily addressed by adjusting next year’s budget.

Regardless of the dispute over how much money the paper is making or losing, she said it’s appalling that the outgoing board of directors would make such a big decision so suddenly, leaving her in the lurch for a scheduled April 17 special edition.

“They have access to the finances and all year have not so much as requested anything,” Marar said. “It’s a very embarrassing, unfortunate situation and very confusing given that there was no dialogue with us.”

If the board of directors gets its way, The Lance’s last printed issue will be the most recent one with the front-page headline “Electile dysfunction: Multiple allegations of corruption plague UWSA election.”

The article takes a critical look at the many complaints and allegations surrounding the student election held two weeks ago.

The article reports on allegations that candidates were disqualified at the last minute with no justification, that students were disenfranchised when they were locked out of the online voting system and that some newly elected executive members had access to computing resources that would have allowed them to hack the results.

Stephen Hargreaves, the managing editor of The Lance, said he hopes the timing is just a coincidence. “What I hope this decision isn’t intended to do is to censor the student voice via student media. I hope the UWSA has simply made a mistake.”

Kim Orr, the outgoing UWSA president who will be replaced by Rob Crawford next year, said she doesn’t think The Lance’s coverage had anything to do with the decision. “I would say no. The negative coverage of The Lance was directed toward our executive members and our [chief returning officer], none of which have a voting position on our board of directors.”

As a member of the executive rather than the board of the directors, Orr did not have a vote at the meeting where board members decided to shutter printing. However, she said she supports the decision.

“I think it was a prudent decision for the board of directors to make. The Lance is currently operating at such a deficit that they’re borrowing money from the UWSA to go and make print copies of their paper,” she said.

With a circulation of 10,000, The Lance is the second largest print publication in Windsor and the city’s only free weekly. Marar said cutting the print edition and going web-only effectively cuts the paper’s current budget of about $180,000 per year down to a third of that, since it won’t be able to pull in nearly as much advertising revenue.

There are 14 paid positions at the paper, with the people staffing three of those positions clocking in full-time hours, Marar said. She said the end of the print edition will spell layoffs and a reduction in quality.

“We don’t operate on a student volunteer basis here. This is a business with a sizeable staff,” she said. “To suggest The Lance can operate to the same journalistic standards that we have and the same staffing levels that we have on $60,000 per year is an insult and inaccurate.”

The vote highlights the delicate and sometimes uncomfortable relationship student newspapers have with student governments. Part of The Lance’s job is to report on the UWSA and hold it accountable, but it is legally a department of the student alliance and the board of directors has the ultimate say over whether its bills get paid or not.

In January, the University of Western Ontario’s student government made a similar sudden decision to replace The Gazette’s offices with a multi-faith space and cram the entire newspaper’s staff into an office a fraction of the size. The newspaper then ran an editorial slamming the student government for what it considered infringements on its freedom of the press.

Gazette editor-in-chief Gloria Dickie said the University Students’ Council eventually reversed the decision following a public outcry, national media coverage and a meeting with student faith groups, who all opposed the move.

This is the second time in as many years that elected University of Windsor student representatives on their way out the door have voted to shutter a UWSA business as one of their last acts. At the end of last year’s school year, the outgoing student alliance and the university decided to close the troubled, debt-ridden Thirsty Scholar pub and replace it with a bookstore and licensed café, putting about 50 people out of work.

The UWSA kept the Thirsty Scholar afloat for years, despite its $1-million debt.

“They covered it with non-repayable loans, year after year, because they saw the pub as an essential service to students,” Marar said. “It’s shameful to think that if we were a couple thousand dollars in the hole, if that was the case, that they would not support their own student media.”

[email protected] or on Twitter @clabrow


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