Quinnipiac newspaper, administration face off over editorial policy

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 an online exclusive the paper 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 his services as editor in chief.

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.

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.”

Faculty advisor Margarita 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, one member of the paper’s staff 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.”

In a meeting with the Student Government Association on Oct. 17, John Lahey, the school’s president, 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.”

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.

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

She said 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 never 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.”

Chronicle Managing Editor David 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.

Diaz said the School of Communications is in the process of writing a response to the statement McCourt sent to faculty and students.

For more coverage, see www.yaledailynews.com on Wednesday.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    This is why college newspapers must be independent. When you accept funding from the University they believe they are in control of the content of the paper. This includes "renting" space for your staff. Hooray for the independece of the Yale Daily News.