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Publications continue despite lack of funds, staff

By Stacey E. Blau

Although all campus publications have a goal of publishing issues they think are of interest to the campus, a number of them have not been able to do so in the past year due to a lack of resources and support.

While the self-billed MIT-Wellesley journal of rational discourse Counterpoint has managed to pull back from the brink, the Course Evaluation Guide has had to retreat online for survival; although Rune is back from a nine-month hiatus with a new issue, How to Get Around MIT has not been published this year and may be in more serious trouble.

The two main problems experienced by the four - lack of money and lack of staff - were mostly long-standing problems for the publications. This past year simply proved the breaking point for them, forcing them to scale back the extent of their production.

Counterpoint bounces back

Like many student-run publications, Counterpoint is suffering most from lack of staff, said its outgoing Editor in Chief Han Y. Huang G. "The paper was going to die over the summer," when Huang and Publisher Richard Y. Lee '97 "were the only staff, basically," he said. "Our most important [fall] goal was recruitment. The results were fair, and I think the paper will continue" to publish, he said.

But the fall got off to a unfavorable start when copies of Counterpoint's rush issue were trashed in the Student Center and Lobby 7, the second time that issues had been vandalized in the past year. Nearly all 4,500 copies of the magazine's Feb. 1995 issue were stolen and never recovered. But "getting trashed did not hinder us," Huang said. "It was more a symptom of what was being done right" with the articles in the issue. Counterpoint used the incident to its advantage by publicizing it, he said.

Earlier in the semester, Counterpoint had been considering publishing biweekly. "We thought it would be an interesting way to gain visibility," Huang said. But "we don't have the staff to guarantee quality issues every two weeks.

"We turn down a lot of articles - over half, actually," Huang said, explaining why issues of Counterpoint generally contain only a few articles. "We're more a journal than a newspaper, so it's quality that's more important."

Counterpoint had also been suffering from financial problems but has now recovered, Huang said; "We have enough so that we can publish monthly." But the journal still does not have the money to buy computers on which to produce its issues.

"We do our work on Athena using Framemaker," Huang said. While the magazine would appreciate the comfort of having its own computers, "first we need an office to put the computers in," he said. Staff meetings take place at the Technology Community Association office, at Athena clusters, or in 1-132, a room that Counterpoint has reserved for use Monday evenings.

The arrangement is far from perfect, Huang said. "You pick up a lot around an office. People come to hang out and talk," Huang said. Without an office, staff members don't get the same chance to interact, which weakens the paper. "They stay home until we call a meeting," he said.

Now at Roxbury Community College, Former Assistant Dean for Residence and Campus Activities Susan D. Allen "gave us the runaround with computers and office space. The least she could do is help get us an office," Huang said. "Everyone remembers the publications" when they think back about college, he said. "The deans should realize that Counterpoint is really visible."

CEG forced to retreat online

Money was also a concern for the CEG, as financial problems pushed it to abandon paper publication and move exclusively online this year.

In large part because of rising paper costs, recent guides have run deficits of several thousand dollars. That shortfall has exhausted the surplus generated in previous years for printing. Moving online saved the CEG the usual printing costs of $8,000 to $10,000 per run, said Associate Editor Federico Bernal '97, a former editor in chief of the CEG.

Students may "be somewhat unhappy, but this is the best we can do at this point," said Christopher E. Yang '99, editor in chief of the Spring 1996 guide.

"We will probably not go back to hard copy" for this fall's issue, said current Co-Editor in Chief Heather M. Norton '96. The CEG's money problems will likely keep the guide almost exclusively online for some time to come.

"We [will] ask the deans for donations" to offset the costs of the guide, Norton said, "but we likely will not get that money. The problem is last semester's guide is not finished" because some reviews of classes remain unwritten, and the deans are consequently unwilling to shell out more money, she said. "We hopefully should get some, but it may be less" than in previous years, Norton said. "Money is definitely a problem right now."

While a few hundred copies of the spring and fall 1996 issues will be printed to distribute to living groups and other major organizations to ensure hard-copy access, the guide will stay a primarily online publication.

Improvements will be made in the next month or so to the spring 1996 guide so that students can sort information by course, a specific professor or teaching assistant, or as it relates to a certain degree, advantages possible only through the computerized version, Bernal said.

Norton said that the CEG is in good shape for producing its fall 1996 edition. "We have a lot of writers. We're doing well," Norton said. "I'm pretty confident we'll get it out on time," she said.

After hiatus, Rune back on track

Although "Rune does not have any dire problems at this point," according to Literary Editor John M. Dykes '96, "we are currently behind schedule in putting out a new issue. This is probably our most pressing problem."

One reason for the delay has been lack of seasoned staff members in layout. "The layout people of previous years have moved on, leaving a novice layout team to work on our latest issue," Dykes said.

In the past, "layout was done by a very small core of Rune's members," Dykes said. "The burden of organizing layout, scanning images, and entering the written works fell upon the shoulders of a couple of people." Despite this system's efficiency, "the problem with [it] was that others never learned the skills necessary to do layout," Dykes said. So "when the previous year's layout people moved on, we ran in to some problems," Dykes said.

"We are also experimenting with a slightly more decentralized administrative structure, which has taken some time to get used to," Dykes said.

To prevent the problem from recurring, the magazine is trying to involve "everyone in some part of layout and design. Art editors are working on scanning in images [and] literary editors are entering written works," Dykes said. "Everyone will have a voice in the final layout design."

The most recent printing was the Rune Spring Supplement of 1995, "which was a small booklet printed and distributed at the end of spring term 1995. It was meant to supplement Rune 16, published in fall of 1994," Dykes said.

While Rune is not facing serious financial problems, "finances are very, very tight," Dykes said. "However, MIT has supported us quite well in past years."

"We are hoping to have the next issue of Rune on the stands" in the next few weeks, Dykes said. "Things are coming along smoothly."

HowtoGAMIT not published

HowtoGAMIT, an exhaustive guide to student life and culture and MIT lore, is facing a more dismal situation. Because of a lack of funding and staff support, HowToGAMIT was not published this summer and may never be printed again, said former editors.

"Basically, it's dead," said Traci L. Williams '95, a former HowtoGAMIT editor. "Right now, no one wants to write it."

The TCA, which oversees the production of HowToGAMIT, just does not have the funds to cover the publishing costs, Williams said.

One problem in funding the guide is the cost needed to provide free copies to freshmen, the guide's primary audience, said TCA President Ameet Singh '96. TCA did not obtain enough money from advertisements this year to offset the cost of the free copies.

HowToGAMIT has had problems recruiting staff members in the past, Williams said. Two years ago, the guide was in danger of folding, but was saved when an electronic mail request for help by Williams succeeded in recruiting about 20 people for the fall 1994 edition.

But when Williams solicited help for the guide last spring, no such response was forthcoming. "No one has shown any desire to work," for this year's guide, Williams said.

"It's depressing to know that the last two years have been such a struggle," Williams said. "I think [the guide] provided a way to organize all the information that seemed relevant about the campus. It was a great resource."

There were plans at the start of the year to put HowToGAMIT on the World-Wide Web. The guide "would be easy to maintain, and there would be no cost in doing so," Singh said. But those plans have yet to come to fruition.

TCA's debt has decreased from approximately $10,000 two years ago to about $2,000, Singh said. This may make available the funding necessary to resume paper publication.

But the shortage of enthusiasm for HowToGAMIT remains a problem. More people are needed "to keep it updated so that it is actually a useful product," Singh said.