February 4, 2011

Free New York Times expected in spring

Free copies of The New York Times will likely be making a return to campus next quarter after the fall’s newspaper pilot program garnered a positive response from students.

Student Government (SG) officers are trying to get the estimated $15,000 needed to offer free copies of The New York Times during spring quarter. The eventual goal, SG says, is to establish free publications as a permanent student service at the U of C.

“It’s SG’s top priority,” said SG president and fourth-year Greg Nance. “We’re confident that we can make it happen.”

During a four-week trial period in October and November, free copies of the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and The New York Times were available on weekdays at six locations around campus. The newspapers were offered through the Collegiate Readership Program, a national print distribution program which is run by USA Today owner Gannett.

The New York Times was the most popular on campus with all 600 copies being taken daily, compared to the 75 percent of the 300 copies of USA Today and Chicago Tribune, according to SG.

Though SG would prefer to offer multiple publications, Nance said that the biggest concern is ensuring the fiscal feasibility in offering The New York Times first.

“We have a two-pronged strategy,” Nance said. “One is to make funding happen for this spring, and the other funding strategy is how we can make this sustainable funding for next year and hopefully years into the future.”

“Because the overwhelming favorite was The New York Times, that’s going to be the funding priority to start it,” Nance said.

The ideal program would offer 600 copies of The New York Times and 200 copies of USA Today each day, keeping with the three-to-one popularity ratio from the pilot, Nance said.

Funding for the program will come from SG’s executive budget and Finance Committee. They’re also discussing partnership possibilities with the Law School and the Harris School of Public Policy, where papers could be made available to graduate students.

But for the program to continue in the long run, the annual Student Life Fee would likely be raised. “We can make it sustainable for about a $6.80 increase per student,” Nance said.

According to an SG survey conducted in the final week of the pilot program, over 70 percent of students said they were willing to pay $10 for the program to continue. Nearly 80 percent said they were willing to pay $5.

The logistics of spring quarter’s program will be almost identical to those of the pilot, and SG is considering using a more permanent dispenser with a card reader function to ensure the newspapers went to students.

SG is hosting a petition in support of bringing the program to campus, and the blizzard has not stopped people from signing. “We’ve just topped 100 signatures, and that’s for literally about four hours at the table,” Nance said.