Targum situation: Blow to democracy or harsh reality?

The situation with The Daily Targum is profoundly troubling to me as student journalist and aspiring professional journalist. What is troubling to me is not that The Targum might have to become self-sustaining – much like most professional newspapers and some student publications. Rather, it is the broader implications this has for American republican democracy.

The Targum, much like any other product in our free-market economy, is subject to consumer demand. If the students at Rutgers University don’t see the value of their paper, then they shouldn’t have to pay for it. In this respect, I understand the proposed referendum that would allow students to opt out of subscribing to the paper.

But The Targum is a prestigious publication with a record of public service to the University community. In my three years at The Signal, I’ve learned the value and potential of courageous student journalism. I’ve seen power kept in check, crime stories broken at all hours of the day and night and I’ve seen our paper scoop professional news organizations on several occasions. We have served our community well, and I’m sure the same can be said of The Targum.

I’ve also learned that college newspapers aren’t isolated from broader trends in print media. In all likelihood, if Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick signs this referendum, The Targum will get a sudden, harsh dose of print-media reality.

Students will opt out of the fee. The paper will lose money. Coverage at The Targum likely will suffer. I hate to think of the abuses of power and matters of public safety that would go uncovered on a campus without a student newspaper. I also hate to think of U.S. republican democracy without newspapers.

While student journalists learn the bedrock skills and principles of the trade at student papers, students – the communities we serve – learn their value. In this sense, the weakening of another student paper leaves democracy vulnerable. I think democracy is worth $9.75 a semester.

-Joseph Hannan, Editor-in-Chief, The Signal

Unlike Joe, I have no sympathy for The Targum. Of course, as a fellow student journalist, I know what it’s like to have to scramble for every dollar to keep a paper afloat: a few of our Signal editors recently spent a day during Winter Break in the Signal office, cleaning out old junk and figuring out what we could sell on eBay. I was sore for days after carrying old eMac’s from our Web editor’s car to the FedEx store, to net a mere 20 bucks per computer that can buy us maybe a night of paper each, if we’re lucky.

The dwindling advertising generated by print media coupled with the recession puts not just college newspapers but all newspapers in a precarious position that doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon.

Unfortunately, this is a reality all of us have to face. The Signal has to face it, and the more the editors at The Targum are forced to face that same reality, the better prepared we all will be when we enter what’s left of the journalism job market.

Here at The Signal we accept a minimal amount of money from the Student Finance Board (SFB) and exist almost entirely though advertising revenue, allowing us to be, for the most part, independent. It is situations like the one at The Targum that make us appreciate this fact.

In the ‘real world,’ advertising accounts for the majority of a paper’s revenue, not subscriptions. And no one is forced to subscribe to any newspaper, ever. If students really value the service The Targum provides, I like to think most Rutgers University students will choose to continue paying the fee.

And yes, it’s true that one can opt out of the fee and pick up the paper anyway, but how is that different from a non-subscriber picking up a discarded copy of The New York Times on a subway?

I do feel for the students and staff of The Targum that may be affected by President McCormick’s decision, if he decides to sign the bill. However, I’m not sympathetic that The Targum has to now focus its attention on advertising and deal with the dire financial situation that every newspaper across the country is facing, instead of relying on student money to foot the bill. Welcome to the club.

-Megan DeMarco, Managing Editor, The Signal