Editor in Georgia plans lawsuit over cuts to student paper's budget

GEORGIA -- The editor in chief of Armstrong Atlantic State University's student paper said she is planning to file a lawsuit against the president of the university and the Student Government Association for cutting the paper's 2008-09 budget, allegedly based on complaints about the paper's content.

Inkwell Editor in Chief Angela Mensing alleges the SGA is censoring the paper by reducing its student fee allocation by $14,760. The paper's total budget allocation for 2007-08 was $69,500 -- which included $54,500 from student fees and $15,000 in projected advertisement revenue. The 2008-09 allocation is $65,240 -- including $39,740 from student fees and $25,500* in projected advertisement revenue. The SGA cut would total a loss of $4,260 for the paper, but Mensing says the real loss is $14,760 because it is the amount of student fee support being trimmed. The Inkwell had requested a total budget of $70,829 to cover the costs of a larger editorial staff and computers, Mensing said.

Members of the SGA Finance Committee criticized the paper's coverage of SGA events and use of wire stories in a Feb. 16 budget hearing, Mensing said.

"There have been a lot of good stories about what they've done," she said. "I think it's their way of saying, 'We're going to teach you a lesson ... by cutting your budget.' "

Chris Nowicki, an SGA senator and member of the Finance Committee, and the Student Affairs office deferred comment to the Office of University Relations. Spokesman Francisco Duque told the Student Press Law Center Monday morning the university was not commenting on the Inkwell budget cut.

Mensing said she met with Vicki McNeil, vice president of Student Affairs, on March 18 to discuss the budget cut. During the meeting, McNeil told Mensing the SGA cut the paper's budget because of a new policy that would charge the SGA for publishing advertisements in the Inkwell, not for content-related reasons, Mensing said.

Although the paper had charged SGA for some advertisements in the past, there had been no formal policy, Mensing said.

The Inkwell is governed by a Publications Board, which is chaired by McNeil and includes student publication advisers, student publication leaders and the SGA president. The board's policy says the editor in chief has sole responsibility over newspaper content, Mensing said.

The SPLC is helping Mensing find a volunteer attorney to represent her.

CORRECTION, 7/1/2008: An earlier version of this article misstated the Inkwell's projected 2008-09 ad revenue. The SPLC regrets the error. Return to story.

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