By Mary Chan
Student press leaders are crying foul after free National Post distribution began at the University of Manitoba Mon., Feb. 21. While some U of M students appreciate the move, the Canadian University Press and the campus student paper, the Manitoban, warn this could spell the end of student press in Canada.
"Over the long term, this could severely damage, if not destroy, student-run publications on campus," said CUP President-elect Jeremy Nelson who is concerned with student papers losing advertisers to large daily papers. "The student press, try as it might and important as it is, can’t compete with something that is able to do 150-page issues and glossy inserts. It’s just a financial thing if nothing else."
About 700 hundred free Posts are being distributed on roughly 20 stands on the U of M campus after the U of M Students’ Union and the National Post struck an agreement.
"It provides an opportunity for students who may not be able to afford to buy a paper every day to get a paper at no cost," said UMSU President Steven Fletcher. "It’s a great service to students and students are using it overwhelmingly."
According to Fletcher, the UMSU pays less than a nickel per issue to get the free distribution. Fletcher also says that student response is "very good."
The U of M student newspaper, the Manitoban, disagrees.
"All over the country the National Post is waging this campaign just to pad their circulation numbers by dumping copies on campuses," said Manitoban Editor-in-chief Kevin Matthews. "This will lead to attrition of national advertisers from student newspapers. Some student newspapers will be destroyed by that loss of revenue, some will just be severely crippled."
"I don’t agree at all," said National Post Educational Coordinator Robert Henri. "It’s a different format, in a different manner. I don’t see the media buyers comparing the two."
According to Henri, the Post receives many requests from business schools and students’ unions for copies of the paper to complement curriculum. Henri added that based on this interest, the national daily is looking at formalizing an educational program.
Student press concern first arose from the situation at York University in Toronto, where the Toronto Star began distributing 5,000 free copies daily last September.
"Since that’s happened, the main [student] publication at York, the Excalibur, has unfortunately had to drop its circulation because readership numbers have dropped and it’s beginning to feel the pinch in terms of advertising revenue," said Nelson.
Henri stressed that the National Post is not trying to imitate the Toronto Star.
"We’re not in any way trying to do what the Toronto Star is doing," he said. "There’s no intent to put student papers out of business."
Matthews will make a presentation to the UMSU council on Mar. 8 asking them to halt the distribution. The UMSU is also pursuing getting copies of the Globe and Mail distributed on campus.