The death of newsprint may hit UC Irvine's newspaper unless students hand over their votes — and money — in an upcoming election.
Just like newspapers across the country, rising printing costs have forced UCI's weekly New University to cut back, according to the paper's student editor.
The New University has shrunk to 24 pages from about 60 pages in a span of six years, and the print edition could soon cease to exist.
It has also halved the compensation it gives student editors to between $24 and $50 per week.
Students can vote on Measure U, which asks for a 99-cent quarterly fee to support the student-run newspaper, during the Associated Students of UCI election April 15 through 19.
"What would happen is if it doesn't pass, we think that we would be able to sustain the print for one more year. After that we would have to go all digital," said New University Editor in Chief Jessica Pratt.
The referendum would ease that transition, hopefully sustaining the physical product for an additional five years and possibly building reserves while students discern the future of New University's print edition, Pratt said.
"We'll see how we are after five years because we don't really know where it's going," she said.
Professional and student newspapers have been making the transition to digital while stuggling with lagging advertising and rising printing costs.
Some, like the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times, have raised pay walls to charge readers for online content, while others have shut their doors or gone online only.
Pratt said those options would be devastating to New University's readership. About 8,000 free copies are printed weekly.
Other options could undermine the independence of the paper, which currently takes no money from the university.
"We can't exactly go to the administration for money because that's a conflict of interest, so we thought that we could go to students," Pratt said.
If Measure U passes, each undergraduate would pay 99 cents each quarter except in the summer.
A third of the money would go back to funding financial aid, a campus policy requirement for new student fees.
The other 66% would fund printing — which Pratt said runs more than $1,500 a week for the reduced-size issue — and other production costs.
New University would also provide an annual report to show it's properly using the money, according to Measure U's text.
Pratt said people she's spoken to are generally supportive of the fee when they understand the issue, but there's a significant hurdle.
"To be completely honest, I am a little worried about our chances," she said.
To pass, at least 25% of the student population must vote and 60% of those must approve of Measure U.
In last year's election, about 6,200 people, or 28% of undergraduate students, turned out to vote, Associated Students Election Commissioner John Delshadi said.
It's typical to reach that needed quorum in spring elections, but it's also common for students to turn down fee increases, he said.
Delshadi said a student government measure and a bus measure failed to raise fees last year when they were on the ballot with a tuition hike. "Those factors combined pushed it toward the 'no' side," he said.
Including Measure U, there are three measures on the April ballot asking for increased student contributions, he said.
New University staffers have tried to get a student fee to support the newspaper before and failed, Pratt said. She hopes the fact that Measure U asks for just 99 cents changes the outcome. Pratt said she wasn't sure how much the paper asked for in the past but knows it was more than what is being sought now.
"I think it's just a matter of making people understand that we're independent and this is pretty much our last resort," she said.