OPINION: Pieceworks cuts unfair to Trail writers

Photo credit to Becca Miserlian

On Thursday, April 11, the Associated Students of the University of Puget Sound (ASUPS) Senate hosted a number of club and organization leaders to address acceptances and appeals to the proposed 2019–2020 ASUPS budget. Some of these leaders were addressing issues that they’d found in how much money Senate was willing to allocate to them relative to what the club needed or wanted. Among those leaders was a cohort of Trail editors and writers, including myself.

Our Editor-in-Chief, Becca Miserlian, was intent on appealing for a fairer budget than what ASUPS had given us for the 2019–2020 school year. With the proposed budget, the stipends of our section editors were under the threat of being rendered inequitable, as one-page section editors were set to lose $200 while two-page editors remained the same as last year. Also in the proposal was an allotted $13,000 to pieceworks, the budget from which The Trail pays writers, but the amount is $2,100 less than what The Trail needs. With this deficit, writers, who now make $30 or $35 per article depending on how many years they’ve worked for The Trail, may all drop to, at the most, $28.

Part of the reason for reducing the budget of The Trail so severely, from what I understood, is that ASUPS is attempting to remove the budget differential between KUPS and The Trail, its two largest media organizations, in the name of “equity.” Those of us representing The Trail were put off by this, because we feel that the work it takes to be a Trail writer was not and is not respected enough.

Trail writers devote hours to their articles a week. No job is as easy as it seems, and until you’ve worked a News story and spent over five hours interviewing subjects, transcribing quotes, and pulling together a piece of journalism, you might think we writers just slap 700 words together and run off with our check. While The Trail may not always be dominant when it comes to campus culture, we take journalism seriously. Just as ASUPS strives to be a student government that embodies the best qualities of representative democracy, we at The Trail strive to embody the best qualities of a real newspaper.

It saddens me to report that ASUPS Senate shot down our pieceworks appeal. Thankfully, our section editors’ stipends were passed in a structure that is fair to them and good for our budget, but it’s likely that returning writers for The Trail next year won’t be making the $35 rate that writers have been making for years, or even $30.

Writers are the heart of The Trail. Without us and our work, there would be nothing for editors to edit, and nothing for campus to read. Without us, no one is reading a quick synopsis of the Senior Theater Festival play that premiered last weekend, or a summary of President Crawford’s 10-year strategic plan, or a calculated opinion on our campus’ many, many shortcomings.

On top of that, many writers rely on the money from The Trail as a means of livelihood. I consider The Trail my third job, along with being a Tour Guide and working at the Library, because I put in work and get paid what I’m due. This money contributes to my textbook purchases every semester, my grocery money, my tuition — it’s critical to my financial stability. And I’m not the only writer in that position.

Watching senate, many of whom I personally voted for, slash at our budget and my paycheck with a rather chilly apathy was a blow to my faith in the governing body.

The word “equity” was tossed around a lot in this meeting, and I say tossed around because I can’t confirm that every senator who used it knows what it means. It’s more than just “fairness.” Equity is the idea that everyone is given what they need to flourish, and have the same access to opportunity as others. A wheelchair ramp for every building on campus? Equitable. More gender neutral bathrooms in plain sight on campus? Equitable. Plan B pills available at reduced price at CHWS? Equitable. Slashing the budget of The Trail to look like the budget of KUPS, a fundamentally different organization, and butchering the paychecks of 23 aspiring journalists and writers? Not so equitable.

Writers at The Trail deserve better than what Senate has done to us. While our Editor-in-Chief is working hard to find a way to retain our current rate in the budget we’ve now been given, Senate made it clear that our concerns are not aligned with theirs. One Senator, in the meeting, pushed for settling the matter quickly so that we could put it behind us, citing the historical “bad blood” between The Trail and Senate. I can’t possibly imagine where that bad blood came from.