Eastern Oregon University in danger of losing its 'Voice'

Mar. 8—LA GRANDE — Eastern Oregon University's online student newspaper, The Voice, may soon be silenced.

The EOU Student Fee Committee recently voted to cut all funding for The Voice in the upcoming 2023-24 school year. The newspaper likely will not be able to continue operating after the current school year because its sole source of funding is the money it receives annually from the Student Fee Committee.

"It is a huge loss," said Jeannette Benton, the faculty adviser for The Voice and an English and writing instructor.

The Voice has appealed the decision, asking the Student Fees Committee to restore its funding.

The Student Fee Committee determines how much money from student incidental fees is to go to about 18 student organizations and programs on campus. The recommendations then must be approved by the Associated Students of EOU, the EOU president's office and the EOU Board of Trustees.

The Student Fee Committee received $290,000 more in funding requests than it had funding for, according to Tim Seydel, Eastern's vice president for university advancement. Seydel said the student government members on the Student Fee Committee, who decide on recommendations for the allocation of funds, have a tough job.

"For students in these leadership positions these are always difficult decisions," he said. "They (have to) look at all student units and their impact on students and ultimately the need to limit the budget."

The Voice's budget for the current school year is $6,500. Data provided by The Voice indicates that its budget was $27,000 in 2013-14, $17,000 in 2014-15, $3,000 in 2019-20, $18,000 in 2020-21 and $7,500 in 2021-22.

Budget cuts are nothing new for The Voice, which formerly had an annual budget of $35,000, Benton said.

The Student Fee Committee in the winter of 2021 had initially voted to cut all funding for The Voice, but then changed gears after representatives of the newspaper appealed the decision. The committee then voted to provide $7,500 in funding, which was $10,500 short of what was initially requested.

The Voice has been Eastern's student newspaper since at least the 1940s. It was named the Eastern Beacon until about 20 years ago when it assumed its present name. The newspaper has been an online publication exclusively since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The Voice presently publishes six editions a year, three during winter term and three during spring term.

Editions are not published during the fall term while Benton is training staff members how to publish its online editions. She said The Voice typically does not have experienced editors available to put out online editions in the fall.

Benton said there is no way The Voice could continue to be published unless funding is restored or unless a grant application for funding submitted by one of its student staff members is successful.

"We would have to close it down," she said.

The newspaper has a 12-member staff. Benton called it "a very devastating situation for them."

Jillian Hoefer, the current editor-in-chief of The Voice and a current intern for The Observer, is among the EOU students saddened by the likely closure of the newspaper.

"I think it is a huge loss for Eastern Oregon University," she said. "It provides the only (on-campus) opportunity for writers who are interested in journalism to get into the field."

The possible fate of The Voice follows the trend of newspapers across the U.S. More than 2,500 of the nation's newspapers have closed since 2005, according to a report by Northwestern University researcher and former newspaper executive Penny Abernathy — more than a quarter of the newspapers that existed in that year. Surviving news organizations have gotten smaller, relying on fewer journalists to cover even growing cities and metropolitan areas.

Benton credits the experience students have gained while working for The Voice with helping them to land jobs at newspapers as writers and technology specialists.

"They have had a broad range of success," she said of the EOU newspaper's past staff members.

Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer. Contact him at 541-624-6016 or dmason@lagrandeobserver.com.