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Sparking a Dampened Flame: TBL Faces Winter Challenges

Sparking a Dampened Flame: TBL Faces Winter Challenges
Photo by Vicente Villasenor

Alexis Crisostomo

Executive Content Co-Editor

As the winter quarter draws to a close, students at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) find themselves searching for where the time has gone. This quarter was fraught with challenges from the beginning, from torrential rain pouring over our heads and canceling classes, to a series of holidays and hazards. Amid these stories and striking moments of newsworthiness, our readers have asked us, “Where did TBL go?” 

To our readers, students, faculty, and staff: The Bottom Line Newspaper (TBL) has never left. Rather, TBL has had to face our own set of obstacles — challenges that have impeded our weekly operations as well as our overall function as a journalistic entity. 

At the heart of these problems, TBL’s editorial board, senior staff writer, and general staff members were not paid their quarterly stipend paychecks until Feb. 16. As a result, no TBL staff were paid for their work from the entirety of fall quarter to nearly six weeks into UCSB’s winter quarter. Despite initiating pay processes during the same time as previous quarters, this was the longest that staff has waited for pay in all of TBL’s collective memory.

In response, on Feb. 6, TBL’s leaders made the executive decision to stop weekly operations in protest of this delay. This decision was made with respect to honoring staff’s time, as they initially began to labor through the winter quarter under the same volume of responsibilities, quotas, and hours as the last, without the appropriate timely pay. 

TBL was started in 2006 with a mission to both provide its readers with investigative, insightful news and to create journalistic learning opportunities in a school without any print, digital, or broadcast journalism degree. While young compared to other publications associated with UCSB, TBL is resilient in its mission of providing journalistic resources, opportunities, and hands-on education to any student, regardless of experience or ability.

We are also small, with only 36 members on our editorial board, one senior staff writer, and less than six regularly attending general staff contributors to produce weekly content. Throughout the years, TBL has made strides to support its staff while bolstering visibility at UCSB, such as when the current executive board successfully expanded our regular staff numbers by almost double. 

However, our staff and other contributors have witnessed how ongoing internal restrictions and challenges within UCSB’s Associated Students (AS) have stifled our growth. AS controls our ability to access our lock-in budget from student fees. The challenges AS faces have historically left our team waiting for reimbursements and requisitions for months, from small-scale projects for promotional and recruitment efforts to staff pay from fall 2022. In the face of these obstacles and their negative impacts on staff retention, section editors work upward of approximately 8-10 hours per week to uphold the timeliness of TBL news operations. TBL pay is completed in the form of a stipend, in which AS administrators draw money from our lock-in budget powered by student fees to create and approve checks. This process takes time and, thus, much of our staff’s work is an investment of time that could otherwise be allocated to academics, extracurriculars, and more regularly-paying jobs, under the assumption and expectation they will be paid promptly at the beginning of the following quarter.

Although rooted in its mission of advocating for resources in opposition to barriers, TBL prides itself in creating an environment which honors the fact that our staff and contributors are students first. Thus, on Feb. 6, TBL’s executive board decided to stop operations upon listening to (and sharing) staff’s frustrations. The work stoppage, coined as TBL’s staff “strike,” lasted almost two weeks before returning to work. The decision to return to work was not made under the arrival of paychecks but, rather, of increasing conflicted desires to both observe our “strike” while still creating opportunities for staff to be paid for the winter quarter. As a result, executives decided to return to operations but no longer under the same level of expectations, responsibilities, or quotas as usual. Thus, as we returned to create pay opportunities, TBL has since not returned to full capacity and does not plan to for at least the rest of winter quarter 2023. 

For nearly six weeks, our executive board worked alongside TBL’s advisor and other administrators to gauge where in the queue our staff’s paychecks lay, as well as reasons as to why there was such a significant delay. However, to this day, TBL has not received a clear answer. 

Marisela Márquez, the Executive Director of UCSB’s AS, suggested that the delay with TBL’s paychecks was the result of a myriad of issues that AS has faced since the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. In a meeting with one of our executives, she cited the timing of advisor training as a potential problem source. Advisors are typically trained about budget allocation, fund distributions, and how to access funds sometime between July and October. However, such training for this year was started during the AS One Retreat, which occurred during the first week of fall quarter, 2022. As a result, Márquez suggested, students were educated about the nature of filling out requisitions later in the quarter, leading to a high volume of requests at the same time near the end of fall. While TBL’s payment is supposed to be a separate process, due to our lock-in fee, Márquez confirmed that staff paychecks were swept up in these high-volume piles. 

A second source of problems that Márquez suggested was the natural challenges that both AS and UCSB faced as a whole, especially with the ongoing rain. Instructors were informed to cancel classes on Jan. 9 and 10, the first two days of winter quarter, due to flood hazard warnings. Since then, Santa Barbara has become home to a series of winter rain showers which, as Márquez pointed out, impeded AS employees’ ability to come to work and complete tasks.

At first glance, students were also led to assume that the number of vacancies across AS greatly contributed to this delay. However, Márquez cannot confirm nor deny if filling these vacancies, of which there were about 13-14 positions vacant, would have impacted the speediness of TBL receiving its checks, as not all of them directly played a part in the requisition process. As of now, Márquez only suggested that these issues contributed to a delay in TBL checks. However, exact reasons could not be pinpointed for TBL.

As the rain continues to heave in Isla Vista, so do the uncertainties faced by TBL for this school year. In hopes of compensating for the delays within AS, our executives are working with TBL’s advisor, Márquez, and more to brainstorm options and a speedier process with requisitions. However, the future regarding how (or if) TBL will be supported financially and administratively remains unclear. Still, TBL promises to continue its mission in the capacities it can — creating opportunities, sharing resources, and fostering a home for journalistic education. Despite these challenges demotivating and dampening our staff’s morale, TBL stands ready and committed to sparking the flame. 

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