Quinnipiac Chronicle in dispute with administration over independence

Updated Friday Dec. 14 The Quinnipiac Chronicle may claim to be the school’s “independent” student newspaper on its masthead, but recent administrative policy has given the paper’s staff a rude awakening.

After Quinnipiac Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Kathleen McCourt sent an e-mail to faculty and students last week about a long-standing dispute between the university and its weekly newspaper, administrators and student editors have engaged in yet another round of debate on the topic.

A new policy announced by administrators last year — which came after outside media found an online article published about the arrest two basketball players after a public urination incident — forbids the Chronicle from publishing articles online before they appear in print.

Quinnipiac administrators have defended the policy by pointing to their financial support of the newspaper, but Chronicle editors have fought back, saying the rules stifle their journalistic freedom and may eventually prompt them to declare their independence from the university.

Under the new rules, Quinnipiac administrators can only speak to the media, including the Chronicle, through the school’s Office of Public Affairs.

Because the newspaper is funded by the university, administrators said they should have some “control” over what the paper publishes because the university is responsible for the “potentially libelous” information that may arise with online scoops.

“Under its current structure, the newspaper has no accountability to any office or individual on campus,” McCourt said in the e-mail. “At the same time, the university bears all the responsibility and liability for its actions.”

Chronicle Editor in Chief Jason Braff receives an $8,000 stipend for the position.

No other editor or staff member of the Chronicle receives a stipend, according to a statement released by Quinnipiac Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell and McCourt.

The newspaper receives some funding from advertising, faculty advisor Margarita Diaz said, but all printing costs are paid for by the university.

Chronicle Managing Editor David Westerberg said he is concerned the Web policy because it is “detrimental” to the newspaper.

“Without the ability to break stores online, we are hindered,” he said. “We can’t do our jobs.”

Diaz said the Chronicle is also concerned with the “extra layers” that its student journalists must go through when trying to source administrators. Ultimately, she said, it prevents the reporter from writing a “full and accurate” story.

Although neither side in the spat is calling the situation censorship, some Chronicle staff members said the policy causes the Chronicle to “lose journalistic voice for six days out of seven.” Journalism students and outside experts said there are parallels between censorship — mostly used for public domain issues — and the situation that is occurring in the private university.

Still, the administration said the conflict does not pose First Amendment issues because the newspaper is “employed by a company or an institution.”

Similar conflicts between college administrations and newspapers have occurred nationwide, which sparks questions on how to treat the private “interference” when newspapers like the Chronicle require financial help from the schools.

In a meeting with the Student Government Association on Oct. 17, Quinnipiac’s President John Lahey said the web publications policy is necessary so that “dinosaurs like [Lahey] get an opportunity to read it before the external world hears about it.”

Recent articles and opinion pieces, including those surrounding the Chronicle’s coverage of the October SGA meeting, have escalated the conflict to the point that Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Manuel Carreiro recently sent an e-mail to Braff saying his position was “at risk.”

But the administration and the newspaper may come to a compromise soon after both parties agreed to “negotiations” at a Nov. 28 meeting.

There are also administrative plans to have a task force to examine the structure of the newspaper, but at the moment, Diaz has not been invited to join, nor any other member of the Chronicle.

‘We, as journalists, are merely doing our jobs’

Though the administration officially announced the conflict last week, it started over a year ago.

On Dec. 6, 2006, the Chronicle published both a print and online article covering a Nov. 17, 2006, arrest of two freshman basketball players after a public urination incident.

Lahey said at the SGA meeting that he was contacted by two reporters from the Connecticut Post about the arrest after the publication of the article. Having not known the newspaper had a Web site, he did not read the article and was thus unaware of the incident, he said.

In a Nov. 14 Chronicle article that told of the pair’s suspension from the school, Bushnell declined to comment because “disciplinary matters” were involved.

The article prompted the administration to create the web publication policy. Later, Quinnipiac administrators said the policy was put in place to prevent faulty reporting.

In a New Haven Register article published on Dec. 9, 2007, Bushnell said the policy was put in place to “try and prevent some of this inaccurate and potentially libelous information from being posted on the Web in students’ enthusiasm to get … breaking news out.”

Bushnell later said in an e-mail to the News that “our overriding interest is to protect the privacy rights of all our students, particularly in judicial matters where we ourselves are prevented from commenting.”

But the newspaper never found any inaccuracies with the story, Braff said in an opinions piece published in the Chronicle on Sept. 19.

“The administration claimed they were protecting student rights,” he said. “Are they sure they didn’t mean self-image?”

When the Chronicle threatened to publish the article on looseleaf flyers to be distributed on campus, the administration told the staff not to. The paper conceded, and a compromise of an “exclusive” interview with Lahey was reached. The interview later became a front-page article, written by Braff, on the Chronicle’s Sept. 12 issue.

The conflict continued into October, when Lahey said at the SGA meeting he had concerns with the “liabilities” of the school when he speaks in public.

“So I guess the challenge for us now is how in today’s world we can really have a good discussion with the students about important topics, but not have it be a press conference to the world, where I have absolutely no control,” he said.

Lahey said he may not want the Chronicle to attend future SGA meetings when he is present.

“I am open to exploring with student government how the student body can have serious discussions about sensitive matters, and not open to newspaper reporting, for factual purposes,” he said, according to an Oct. 17 article published in the Chronicle. It is unclear whether reporters have been allowed to attend SGA meetings that Lahey attend since October.

On Oct. 18, Bushnell sent a memo to the administration, informing them that the Office of Public Affairs must be informed before administrators may talk to the media — student or otherwise.

In response to Lahey’s comments, Braff and managing editors Melissa Moller and Westerburg published an open letter to Lahey in the Oct. 24 issue of the Chronicle.

“In a public forum, whatever takes place, is public,” they said in the letter. “We, as journalists, are merely doing our jobs.”

After Braff was quoted in an Oct. 30 article for The Republican American as calling the Web policy “ridiculous,” Carreiro sent an e-mail to Braff, warning him not to make any more critical comments of Quinnipiac policy.

“Please understand that any disregard for university or Student Center policies, or any public statement by you expressing disagreement with such policies, will seriously place your position and organization at risk with the university,” Carriero said in the Nov. 2 e-mail.

A Nov. 13 article in The Republican American reported that Braff “fears he may be fired for speaking out.”

Bushnell said she “seriously doubts” that Braff or any of the other student members of the Chronicle will be fired.

Braff and administrators met on Nov. 28 to discuss the Web policy.

Braff said in a Dec. 6 Student Press Law Center article he is “optimistic” about future progress on changing the policy.

Diaz, who was present at the meeting, said the administration and the newspaper agreed to enter negotiations about the disagreement.

She thinks the negotiations will no longer happen.

In an e-mail to The New York Times, Bushnell said students who want to change any university policy need to go through “normal administrative channels.”

McCourt and Carreiro are planning to lead a small task force to examine the structure of the newspaper. Bushnell said “a likely outcome” is the independence of the Chronicle, according to an article published in the New Haven Register.

She later said in an e-mail that the task force “has not yet been constituted so the scope of its work has not yet been defined,” although independence will be “addressed.”

On a Web site requiring a Quinnipiac log-in, McCourt said in a statement that “some shorter-term structural changes might address the legitimate university concerns,” and that independence may not be necessary.

The second and third paragraphs of the statement on the Web site were repeated verbatim in a press release sent to the News, and the two paragraphs were quoted by the New Haven Register. The rest was not featured in the press release and was not quoted in previous press articles.

Diaz said the task force indicates administrative efforts to “go back” from the agreement.

“There were no promises made,” she said.

Steven Brill ’72 LAW ’75 — a Yale lecturer of journalism and founder of the Yale Journalism Initiative — said the Chronicle should strive for independence, but “it is easier said than done.”

Westerberg said it would require “very hard” work to achieve independence.

“It just doesn’t seem feasible for us in the short term,” he said.

A world of difference, two miles away

Despite the proximity, at Yale, the News, an independent student publication, does not feel the same pressure the Chronicle does from the administration.

Still, in 1878, the University tried to interfere with the publication of then-called “Yale News” — a publication then served to anonymously attack secret societies and faculty members.

The Yale faculty passed a rule to ban anonymous publications and to punish those found to be affiliated with the periodicals. When the administration discovered the identities of two editors who worked on the “Yale News,” the two were quickly suspended.

The editors ended up stopping publication of the paper after its June 19, 1878 issue, only to come back in January 1879 with a revealed masthead of six editors.

But that was almost 130 years ago.

In an interview, Andrew Mangino ’09 — the current editor in chief of the News — said he could not recall from his research any other act of “interference” from the University on the paper since 1878. To Mangino, interference is the same as censorship, regardless of the financial situation.

“It’s scary to think [that] more than a century later, a more egregious act of censorship is taking place just two miles away,” he said.

He said it would be “ridiculous” if the News were to have a comparable Web policy. The News “stands in solidarity” with Braff on his stance against the administration, Mangino said.

“We’re more than happy to assist the Chronicle in becoming — as perhaps it should in light of recent events — an entirely independent student newspaper,” he said. He declined to comment what that assistance would be.

Mangino did not see or participate in editing this article prior to publication.

But Brill said censorship traditionally and popularly applies to the government and public domain. Quinnipiac can place restrictions like its Web publications policy, he said, because the Chronicle is not an independent organization.

“It’s stupid and small-minded in the interests of educating people in the college to [place restrictions],” Brill said. “But [Lahey] has the legal right to do it.”

In the 1967 ruling of Dickey v. Alabama, a federal district court said “censorship of school papers is allowed only when the exercise of freedom of speech interferes materially and substantially with the requirement of appropriate discipline and order in the school.”

But a 1988 Supreme Court decision, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier held that “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

When told of Mangino’s comment, Brill said there are some parallels to censorship to the private sector, and that the “dictionary definition” of the term — an institution stopping a publication from printing a story — still applies.

Still, Brill said similar conflicts with the administration are often found in high school situations, and it is “embarrassing” for the conflict to occur in a college setting.

In the follow-up phone call on Tuesday to the e-mail response, Bushnell declined to comment on Mangino’s and Brill’s comments, but she affirmed that the Yale Daily News’ independent structure is different than that of the Chronicle.

Communication error?

What some journalism professors, like Diaz, suggest to be a factor in the conflict is the lack of communication between the administration and the Chronicle — as well as outside media.

Repeated requests for comment by school administration were relayed to Bushnell, who required all interview questions to be sent by e-mail. She responded both by e-mail and phone on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Bushnell did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail requests for follow-up on Wednesday.

When told a News reporter had been able to follow up with Bushnell over the phone, Diaz said she was surprised.

“It keeps changing,” she said. “Depending on the climate and who they are talking to, they change their policies.”

Chronicle staff members said they must e-mail questions to the Office of Public Affairs in order to source administrators. The questions are sent to the administrators, who answer them and send it back to the Office. The e-mail is then forwarded back to the reporter.

When the New York Times reported the conflict on Dec. 2, the reporter was required to submit all questions to Bushnell. She only responded through e-mail.

In an e-mail to the News, Bushnell said e-mails are “not a requirement” for all media inquiries, but when dealing with “complex matter,” it is a “help” to have the questions in writing so she “can give them some thought.”

Students are “free to speak with anyone they wish,” she said.

‘Clear separation’

The News’ Business staff, a separate entity of the Editorial staff, funds the paper, and does not have any say over the news coverage that occurs daily. To prevent conflict of interest, the Editorial staff is not allowed to know of Business policy and newspaper budget.

No editors or staff members of the News receive any financial benefits — stipend included — from any organization for working.

But at a similar publication in Cambridge, that is not the case.

At the Harvard Crimson, a “limited number” of scholarship is allotted to elected editors in order to fulfill the work-study requirement, according to the Web site. The Crimson is financially independent from Harvard University, associate business manager Gideon Lowin, Harvard Class of 2009, said.

Other Conn. newspapers have had varying experience with administrative interference.

Southern News, the twice-weekly newspaper for Southern Connecticut State University, has had troubles in past administrations and student governments — “similar” to those faced by the Chronicle today, faculty advisor Frank Harris said — that tried to restrict funding to the newspaper whenever a critical article was published. Only students of the editorial board decide news coverage, he said.

Ten years ago, a campus-wide referendum passed that allowed the newspaper to be directly funded from fees to the students. The fees are sent to a board headed by the advisors, students and one outside source to be divvied to three student media organizations, including the Southern News.

Harris, the chairman of SCSU journalism department, said censorship still applies to the Quinnipiac conflict because the restriction of administrative sources still prohibits the Chronicle from getting the “full story.”

For the Daily Campus, the University of Connecticut daily newspaper, the staff has had independence from the Associate Student Government since the U. Conn. Board of Trustees granted the motion in the 1970s, according to its Web site.

But Daily Campus Editor in Chief Melissa Bruen said the paper does get some money from the campus, and the administration has some involvement with the financial workings of the paper.

Thirty-five percent of the paper’s funding stems from the student activities fee every U. Conn. student pays each semester. In total, the paper receives $14 per student per year, Bruen said. The rest is funded through print advertising.

Still, the Board of Directors, a seven-member committee, checks with the paper once a month on financial issues. One spot is chosen by the vice president of the university.

But for news coverage and issues that do not relate to finances, the Board of Directors — and the Business staff that runs the advertisements — do not have say, Bruen said. To her knowledge, at no point during her four years working at the newspaper did the Board of Directors request to stop an article or restrict news coverage.

“There is clear separation on campus between the university and the paper,” Bruen said.

The ultimate purpose

At Quinnipiac and other Connecticut schools, the reactions to the bout have been mixed.

Some Chronicle alumni and staff, like graduate Jamie DeLoma, said they applaud the newspaper’s stonewall stance against the administration.

“No Chronicle staff has ever faced such a dire edict by a university administration that had threatened the very existence of the publication,”

DeLoma said in an online post on the Chronicle Web site. “And no Chronicle staff has ever fought more adamantly to protect [first-amendment] rights.”

Diaz said she does not think what the administration is doing can be

called censorship. But the administration is “threatening freedom of expression,” she said.

McCourt said on the Quinnipiac Web site that the school is not the first to try to find a “balance” between the rights of its students and the student media.

Brill said in general, to prevent conflicts like this from happening, the newspaper should try to heed some advice — “don’t take the money,” he said — though he admits some newspaper may not have the financial capabilities to do so.

At some Connecticut colleges, that is the case.

The Campus News Board of Directors was created after their newspaper had some “financial difficulties” in the late 1990s, Bruen said. The staff also hired a professional bookkeeper who keeps track of funds during the day.

To get its own revenue, the Southern News has business staff that engages in print advertising, Harris said, but the funds collected are “definitely” not enough to cover printing costs.

At least some Chronicle readers said they disagree with the newspaper’s stance, which relies too much on making the administration look like the one at fault.

“Students can become over-zealous in their ominous desire for attention that they fail to see the other side,” said a Chronicle Web site post written by a person who calls himself a “dissenter.”

It remains unclear what the future holds for the Chronicle, administrators, staff and journalism experts agree. Likely, they said, independence will not happen quickly, if at all.

About the future of her newspaper, Diaz had few words to say: “I am waiting.”

Still, at least to Steven Kalb — University of Connecticut adjunct professor of broadcast journalism — the result must preserve the ultimate purpose of a school newspaper, no matter what end may be reached.

“They are learning how to be journalists,” he said in a letter in the Hamden Daily News. “If you take away those responsibilities and opportunities, you steal the educational opportunity the university setting provides.”

The School of Communications is planning to release a statement in response to what McCourt wrote to Quinnipiac faculty and students this week.

Comments

  • Pingback: URL