Clayton M. McCleskey: Dorm newspapers are essential

Earlier this month, GW administrators made the decision to yank free copies of The New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today from dorm news racks. Associate Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Johnnie Osborne told the Hatchet that students have many other avenues for newspaper readership and the elimination of the GW Reads program would have “minimum impact.”

Excuse me – did I hear that correctly? Minimum impact?

For a school that is sandwiched between the State Department and the White House and prides itself on an in-touch student body, providing students with the country’s leading newspapers actually makes a huge impact in class and on campus culture. Perhaps administrators underestimated the impact of their decision, but they must work to restore some sort of newspaper program in residence halls.

For a school like GW, the stakes could not be higher. We model ourselves as a politically savvy school whose students fan out across Washington to intern and truly experience the nation’s capital. That experience can only begin with a firm grasp on what is happening in the world we are told to engage.

As for those “other avenues” Osborne referred to, it is important to note that papers are easy to read on the Metro, in-between classes and on the go. CNN.com may do just fine, unless you are riding the Vern Express or waiting for class to start.

Unwilling to accept that newspaper service was too expensive or impractical for us here at GW, as officials here suggested, I made some calls to see how other schools run similar programs. Students at American University continue to receive the three publications we once did, through the USA Today College Readership Program that GW used to supply its papers.

Jeffrey Hanley, president of the AU Residence Hall Association, explained that the university pays for the papers up-front, and the student-led Residence Hall Association reimburses the school for a portion of the costs.

Instead of just killing our program, why didn’t the GW administration try to work out a similar deal?

At Texas Christian University, located in Fort Worth, Texas (close to my native home), students enjoy delivery of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The New York Times and USA Today. TCU is unique in that it does not use the USA Today program GW used. Instead, that university works with the Star-Telegram directly to form a cost-effective partnership.

Dolan Stidom, circulation director for the Star-Telegram, suggested that GW could negotiate directly with the Washington Post. He added that a local paper can discount up to 25 percent off of news-rack prices for higher education institutions.

As for the TCU, a school full of political science majors, their leadership said newspaper readership as essential to the college experience.

“We maintain the program because it is vital for our students to be citizens of the world,” said a representative of the Vice Chancellor’s office, who added that the cost is “just like paying the light bill or watering the lawn.”

When I asked Osborne, who defended GW’s decision in a Hatchet article on the program cut, if GW considered any other options before they cancelled GW Reads, he said no. Osborne mentioned that GW tried to negotiate with the Post back in 1997, but has made no attempts since. It is time to try again.

Greg Magner who works in the circulation department of the Washington Post, agreed that it is important for GW students to have access to a newspaper. He said he will contact Osborne in the hopes of brokering a mutually beneficial deal between his paper and GW. Magner shared the student body’s enthusiasm for a newspaper readership program, and he added that he is eager to work with GW. It seems as if the ball is now in GW’s court.

GW’s administration must be more proactive on this issue. If GW Reads was too expensive, school officials should have found a more efficient program instead of just throwing in the towel. Why keeping students connected to the world around them is not seen as a priority is beyond me.

As students, we must also work to get our papers back. Luckily, after listening to a groundswell of complaints about the loss of GW Reads, the Student Association is aggressively investigating ways to reinstate the program. I am confident that the administration will reach out and work with the SA.

This is our school, and we need to let those in charge know we are not happy with their decision. We must work alongside the administration to get the papers back, because simply giving up on the service is not a viable option for this great institution.

-The writer is a sophomore majoring in International Affairs.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.