In response to a lengthy blog post published during the election campaign that questioned the return on investment students were getting from campus radio station CHRW, USC council will be debating a motion to hold a referendum next year on the station’s funding.
The post touched a nerve with many mainly because it went in depth on a specific topic and went past the superficial, high-level narrative the USC spins every year, generating enough anger to spawn the motion before council.
While the intent of the post was good and I applaud how it started a conversation, this motion is not a good result.
A referendum and subsequent potential for the loss of student fee revenue would almost surely see the end of CHRW. Holding a referendum is a rather extreme response to perceived but largely unsubstantiated dissatisfaction with CHRW. The fact that more practical and proactive solutions aren’t being considered first is worrisome, and the station can rightfully see itself under an attack from councillors.
Striking a committee, re-examining CHRW’s mandate, hosting town halls, consultations with students, surveys — all of these things should be done before a referendum is considered.
Having a committee of councillors, students-at-large and members of CHRW examine its mandate, its reach with students, how it might improve and whether the cost is worth it is a valuable conversation to have. Research and consultation with students is the most effective and practical solution to a perceived problem with CHRW.
When it becomes clear that CHRW’s mandate should change and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the station, then and only then should a referendum be considered.
No doubt, the station needs to evolve to better serve students and the community — all media does in the digital age. It’s a radio station in an era of declining listenership. But it’s also trying to innovate — it’s moving more toward video and listeners can now text their questions and comments into shows rather than just phone in.
In a changing media landscape, the struggle to innovate for campus media can sometimes be too much. The Gazette faces the same problems CHRW does: how do we stay current with the modern media landscape given the many constraints, particularly financial, we have?
That answer from council, when it came to The Gazette, was to invest in its future and in student opportunities. CHRW should at least be given the same opportunity to pitch its plan for innovation and how much that might cost.
Before considering a referendum, council must consider the alternatives and be open to a broad consultation and research process. The 36-year-old station deserves as much.