When The Advocate at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown started publishing reports on students charged with crimes, it put a target on its back.
The student government is mulling whether to chop its budget by 73 percent in response to a student petition, according to The Daily American of Somerset County:
Advocate Editor-in-Chief Peijia Zhang said the petition came about after the newspaper started running magistrate reports [about a year ago] about students charged with crimes. Zhang said some students then began to complain about seeing their names in the paper and online. …
Senate President Kyle Maguire said the next step is a meeting with the newspaper’s leaders to resolve the issue. He said about a quarter of the student senate has signed the petition, but he has not.
The newspaper has published the university police blotter for even longer, and both are in the public record.
According to the student government treasurer, if a third of students (about 850) sign the petition it will “hold weight” with the board that oversees the paper’s budget. More than 600 signatures had been “validated” by the student government Tuesday night.
The cut would zero out the paper’s print budget, which is the overwhelming majority of the $12,000 allocated to The Advocate in the student senate’s 2017-2018 proposed budget.
According to a Daily report Monday, the petition was submitted to the student government at its Feb. 28 meeting, and it was initially withheld both from members of the assembly and The Advocate staff.
The paper is funded by student activity fees, as the petition notes. Publishing the names and alleged offenses of students will harm them, it says:
This policy and practice is creating a hostile environment on campus and could potentially prevent students from seeking employment or admission to graduate school.
It demands the funding cut unless The Advocate removes “the citations section” from its weekly print edition and “past” articles from its website and Facebook page: “[W]e do not feel that it is a proper way to use our funds.”
— Peter Bonilla (@pebonilla) March 16, 2017
Editor-in-Chief Zhang told the Daily that there’s a “fundamental conflict of interest” with the student government interfering with The Advocate‘s “editorial freedom” by targeting its budget.
Students have mixed feelings on the potential cut:
Senior Tom Plutt, of Pittsburgh, suggested getting rid of the magistrate items rather than eliminating the printing allocation. When told that publishing criminal reports is a common practice for most newspapers, Plutt amended his view.
“These are also similar things that you would find in another newspaper,” he said. “If that’s what other newspapers do, I don’t see a problem with it.”
Junior Janine Hunyad, of Pittsburgh, said The Advocate is how most students get campus news.
“I’m not going to lie, that is one of the more entertaining sections,” Hunyad said of the crime reports. “If you don’t want [to be] in the paper, don’t do the crime.”
The administration has been avoiding questions about the petition, according to the Daily, but the chairman of the humanities division told the paper that The Advocate should consider the emotional distress that a crime report can have on the named student.