University of Florida, Alligator Student Newspaper Continue Fight Over Campus News Racks

Administrators at the University of Florida and The Independent Florida Alligator continue to battle over the fate of 19 orange news racks that serve as Alligator distribution points on campus.

The so-called “UF-Alligator rack fight” is stirring a rising tide of news media attention and UF alumni criticism.

The highly-visible racks have been situated for roughly 30 years at “some of the most heavily-trafficked” spots on the 2,000-acre main campus in Gainesville, Fla.  The university plans to replace them with black modular newsstands of its own, charging the Alligator an annual licensing fee of $100 per stand to place their papers upon them.  The initial targeting of the 19 racks appears to be the first step in a larger push that will most likely lead to the removal of all independent Alligator stands.

Along with being a money issue, UF officials say the racks don’t “blend in with the historic look of the campus” and are foul-weather concerns.  As a university spokesman tells the Student Press Law Center, “Every time we have a tropical storm or hurricane, we have to get the racks off campus.  The worry was that this was a safety issue . . . where those racks could become dangerous projectiles in a storm.  The modular racks solve that problem.”

Alligator staffers and their supporters are not buying these style and safety concerns.  They say money and editorial control are the real motivations behind the sudden administrative finagling.

An online petition on Change.org, titled “Stop Removal of the Alligator’s Newspaper Racks from UF’s Campus,” secured nearly 3,000 signatures.

The petition’s creator, Alligator staff writer Erin Jester, explains, “The orange racks are the best way for the Alligator to stay independent and be easily accessible to students. By forcing the paper into university-owned racks, UF is able to control the Alligator’s campus distribution, which means the university could eventually force the newspaper off campus. The licensing fee is also an unfair tax on the paper. UF is forcing the Alligator to pay to distribute a free paper that serves the student body.”

In an editorial, headlined “Save the Racks: The Alligator Needs Your Help,” top Alligator editors similarly contend, “By removing our racks, we believe the UF administration is not acting in the best interest of the students. With UF now controlling our distribution on campus, what happens if we have coverage of the UF administration that they find unfavorable? . . . The uncertainty of this new arrangement will create a chilling effect, hampering our ability to provide students with the most accurate and unbiased coverage.”

Separately, Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago, a UF alumnus and former Alligator staffer, asks, “What is really behind this attempt to undermine the student newspaper and tax what is essentially a public service? . . . This isn’t a safety issue, and certainly UF’s orange-and-blue colors aren’t suddenly out of fashion in campus decor.  It’s at best a display of insensitivity to the value of a newspaper that shouldn’t be treated like a giveaway shopper.”

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