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Thinking Alternative

Brandon Wong | Staff Photographer Empty alternative media boxes stand as a testament to the decline of student media in general.

Over the past five years, ASUCI funding for alternative media publications has severely decreased. As a result, publications have been forced to halt printing for the spring and some have disappeared entirely.

According to the blog College Media Matters, alternative media is “a spectacular complement to the mainstream student press.” It provides students with an alternate source of news, allowing for longer articles, more creativity and a break from conventional newspaper journalism.

In the midst of the funding crisis, one group is optimistically searching for a place on the Student Media bins.

On a rainy Tuesday night in January, a small group of students gathered in Humanities Hall with plentiful ideas and an abundance of jokes. “If you’re looking for a set structure,” said fourth-year English major Bryon Riggs, “this isn’t it.”

“We’re writing on the board,” someone chimed in. “That’s a start!”

The group laughs. They know it’s not an insult; it’s just part of the irreverent humor that makes up Orange Bubbly.

Riggs is co-editor of Orange Bubbly, a new alternative media group on campus founded by James Kuo, fourth-year English and political science double major. The satirical publication is an attempt to add a new genre of writing to the alternative media scene at UCI.

Kuo, a long-time fan of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” describes Orange Bubbly as “a perfected balance of pure, natural taste, created by pure, artificial flavors. It’s so good they could sell it in a box.” The group’s current Web site features articles about the cougar scene in Orange County, an exaggerated storm report and hipster haikus.

But behind the laughs, Kuo has a serious problem. “We need funding,” he said, revealing the major issue facing every publication on campus. Currently, Kuo funds the Orange Bubbly Web site out of his own pocket, but publishing a print magazine is beyond his means. Printing costs hundreds of dollars – money that nobody seems to have for the publication at this time.

Unfortunately, Orange Bubbly is the victim of poor timing in a bad economy. The lack of funding for public universities in California has only added to the financial strain facing alternative media. In 2005, ASUCI allotted over $12,000 for the Alternative Media Board, which funds the six listed alternative media publications; this year, there is only $6,000 available.

“It’s hard to be aware of all the alternative media publications on campus,” said ASUCI President Megan Braun in an e-mail, including that, after investing an extra $100,000 in the ASUCI shuttles, cuts had to be made across the board to all student programs.

“I have not seen or heard anything that strikes me as cause for concern,” Braun added.

Producers of alternative media, however, have a different opinion.

“It’s as if they’re silently condemning alternative media,” commented Jonathan Radocay. Radocay, a fourth-year English and philosophy major, and Abraham Ahn, fourth-year literary journalism major, run Forest Fire, one of the six publications currently listed under the Alternative Media Board. The longest-running publication under the Board is the creative journal New Forum, which has lasted twelve years, thanks to low-printing costs, smooth leadership transitions and outside donations. (The New University is not considered an alternative media publication and receives no funding from ASUCI.)

Under the leadership of Radocay and Ahn, Forest Fire has printed five issues in the past two years, but this year it has yet to print one. Its content is currently exclusively online.

Forest Fire’s source of funding comes from both ASUCI and Campus Progress, a non-profit organization that, according to its Web site, “promotes progressive political and social policy through support for student activists and journalists on college campuses in the United States.” Campus Progress also funds INCITE Magazine, an alternative media publication on campus that promotes social, political and cultural awareness.

Despite INCITE’s history of printing every quarter, the magazine is facing an extreme funding crisis: Campus Progress recently cut INCITE’s grant in half, leaving the publication a few hundred dollars short of printing in the spring. The magazine’s editorial board has chosen to put printing on hold until more funding can be secured.

Campus Progress once held another publication’s livelihood in its hands: After many issues dependent on fundraising, Jaded magazine, a quarterly-publication that focused on Asian-American issues and progressive politics and culture, received a grant from Campus Progress.

In a 2006 blog post on the Campus Progress Web site, Kayleigh Shaw, Jaded’s Entertainment Editor, wrote about her role as a member of ASUCI and alternative media, stating, “As a staff member of Jaded, our humble publication which scraped by last year by asking our parents for money, I know how frustrating it is to watch student government spend a few hundred thousand dollars throwing concerts that feature no-name artists.”

For three years, Jaded was seen as the premiere alternative publication on campus, winning awards such as the UCI Dean of Students’ Social Justice Award in 2006 and the Campus Progress Publication of the Year in 2007. But in 2007, the magazine couldn’t sustain itself any longer and Jaded folded, changing the landscape of alternative media at UCI.

Four years after her blog post, Shaw’s opinions haven’t changed. “Being a member of ASUCI was kind of a mixed bag,” Shaw said. “On the one hand, I felt like I had more power as a member of an [alternative media] publication but at the same time, I felt powerless against the bureaucracy of the university as a whole, not just ASUCI, because of how little funding we got compared to the big picture of the budget.”

With ASUCI funding becoming a less dependable source of income, alternative media publications have had to develop new means for survival. The Anteater Review, the conservative-leaning magazine that receives grant money from the Collegiate Network, normally sells advertisement space to help pay for its full-color publications. INCITE is also researching new methods of funding, which may include fundraisers on Ring Road.

Other publications have taken the opposite approach: Both p o p Magazine, an art and pop culture publication, and UMOJA, described as UCI’s Black News Magazine, still rely solely on ASUCI funding. UMOJA has printed twice this year with the $500 they received in September from ASUCI, which is half of what established publications received. p o p hopes to print one more issue before the school year ends.

Forest Fire also has plans to print once more before June. However, the end of the school year signifies more than just graduation: with its remaining funding, Forest Fire will print the best of its online content in one final issue.
As the current alternative media publications prepare themselves for a difficult journey, Orange Bubbly is still looking ahead towards publication.

At the end of their rainy January meeting, Kuo looked at the ideas written on the whiteboard and noted with a smile, “I feel like we’re in an English class, writing down all of the elements of an unwritten novel.” The blue and green ink from the board was slowly erased as the students dispersed with high spirits.

It is nearly four months later; Orange Bubbly has yet to print.

Traci Lee has contributed to INCITE magazine but is not currently a member of INCITE’s staff.