Each spring, student journalists call SPLC seeking help when their budget is cut. Hopefully, it'll never happen to you, but being prepared increases your chances of reversing a budget cut, or at least surviving it.

Take Southern Oregon University's The Siskiyou, which found out in mid-February their entire $3,897 budget had been cut to zero. They took action: they met with the decision makers and argued their case, organized alumni on their behalf, used social media and local media attention to spread the word, and appealed the decision in every way possible. $3,000 of their budget was restored.

#1 Takeaway from this newsletter: Public schools cannot legally cut a student newspaper budget for content-based reasons. If you think your budget was cut because of critical or unflattering coverage of the university or your student government, you may be able to claim they violated your First Amendment rights.

#2 Takeaway from this newsletter: If your budget is cut, contact SPLC's legal hotline for help.

We created a step-by-step guide for what do do if your budget gets cut:
Read the guide
Here's the short version:
  1. Meet with the person or group that cut your budget — If you have a First Amendment claim, that's your strongest argument. Put together a file of every bad thing they've said about your publication and anything that indicates they made the cut because of content you published. You can also argue the value of your publication and the important service it provides to students, as well as the educational value it has for staff.
  2. Work with your publication's alumni — They're a powerful group that can help make your case to the school. Have them write about how your publication helped them in their careers. You can even ask them to withhold donations to the university until the issue is resolved.
  3. Take your story public — Write about what happened and explain to your readership how the cut will affect your newsroom and limit coverage. Pitch the story to local media, including alumni who work in newsrooms.
  4. Hire an attorney — Usually, if your claim that the budget cut violated your First Amendment rights is strong enough, the school will back down. If they don't and you're willing to fight the cut, SPLC can help connect you with a member of our Attorney Referral Network who can take on your case pro bono. Contact our legal hotline.
  5. Amp up your ad sales and get creative — If your budget doesn’t get restored, or you have to make do with less while you contest the cuts in court, SPLC has a list of tips to rescue your publication’s finances. Some tips include sponsored content, newsletters, new ways to advertise, and sponsored events.

Q: Is my publication responsible for libelous quotes from third parties or libelous statements contributors make, such as in guest columns?

In print or broadcast media, yes. If you publish it, you are taking ownership of it, regardless of whether someone on your staff or an outsider makes the statement. This includes quotes, letters to the editor, opinion pieces written by guest writers, even advertisements. 

On the other hand, in an online publication, the Communications Decency Act should shield you and your website from comments by outsiders posted on your stories or message boards. Be careful, though: the law allows you to voluntarily screen for profane or libelous comments, but if you start rewriting the comments to improve upon them, you may become responsible as a co-creator. 

See previous Ask SPLC answers

Are you covering coronavirus?

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the U.S. and begins affecting more communities, we want to see how student journalists are covering it. We also want to know what challenges you've faced while reporting on coronavirus. 
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Nominate students by May 8, 2020 for SPLC's high school journalism and college journalism awards to recognize exceptional efforts in fighting for student press freedom.
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High school and college news organizations can show their support for SPLC's legal hotline and other core services by becoming a member. Your individual donations help us defend the rights of student journalists and their advisers across the country. 
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