Memphis student newspaper's funding cut reversed

Investigation concludes editorial content may have influenced $25,000 reduction

TENNESSEEThe Daily Helmsman’s budget will be restored after a University of Memphis investigation found that a 33 percent cut was potentially content-motivated, the university’s president announced Friday.

Memphis President Shirley Raines called for the investigation earlier this month, after the paper accused the school’s Student Activity Fee Allocation committee of basing its decision on committee members’ displeasure with the paper’s content. At a public institution, the First Amendment prohibits conditioning funding on editors’ coverage decisions.

The seven-member committee is made up of student government members and university administrators. The Helmsman’s student fee budget was cut from $75,000 to $50,000, a 33 percent decrease — tied for the largest cut imposed on any student organization.

In a recorded meeting with Helmsman staff and in interviews with the Student Press Law Center, committee members expressed concerns that the paper wasn’t covering student activities adequately. Student government members were upset when the paper covered an on-campus rape instead of a political speech and also by a story about the school’s Marxist Student Union, believing it lacked broad appeal.

The investigation confirmed those concerns potentially influenced the committee’s decision.

“Since content may have been a factor, we will restore the $25,000 in funding to The Daily Helmsman,” Raines said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Chelsea Boozer, the paper’s editor, said in a statement that she was pleased with the university’s decision and would be continuing to find a way to fund the paper long term without university money.

The full investigative report hasn’t been released yet but is expected next week.

“We are hopeful that the situation will be fully corrected when we agree on a new funding method for the paper,” Boozer said. “It is my hope that a funding method that doesn’t jeopardize the paper’s editorial decisions and ethics, nor punish it for coverage that any University representative may disagree with, will be implemented.”

By Sara Gregory, SPLC staff writer

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