Controversy between the University of Maryland administration and an independent student daily newspaper, the Diamondback, erupted in October.
An Oct. 19 meeting addressing problems at the undergraduate publication precipitated an explosive editorial by Jonathan Schuler, editor in chief of the newspaper, which accused school officials of trying to take control of the newspaper. Thomas G. Kunkel, the dean of Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the representative of the administration at the meeting, said the administration is attempting to upgrade the quality of the newspaper, not control it.
“We felt we had to do something to show the college that we couldn’t be pushed around,” Schuler said of the reason he wrote the editorial.
Schuler said administrators demanded the Diamondback offer academic scholarships and appoint an editorial advisor who would oversee the editorial content of the paper. He said administrators threatened to “do what they [had] to do” and are now “backpedaling a lot to make up for some of the damage they did.”
The Diamondback receives no funding from the university, but students at the Merrill Journalism College often write for the publication.
“We are not opposed to criticism, but we don’t want demands shoved down our throats,” Schuler added.
In a letter responding to Schuler’s editorial, Kunkel and Associate Dean Christopher Callahan wrote that they “believe utterly in the independence of the Diamondback,” but said they “must be confident” the Diamondback is a publication that will “complement and enhance” the formal education of its journalism students.
Kunkel said the newspaper’s quality has declined in recent years, and that Maryland Media, which owns the publication, should allot more of the $4 million it has in reserve to improving the newspaper.
Schuler said people had criticized the $300,000 estimated annual income of Maryland Media’s general manager.
Kunkel added that he made “strong suggestions” but in no way intended to be hostile.
“That meeting got intense at times,” he said. “There may have been some characterizations [I made] that otherwise wouldn’t have been as blunt.”
To curb the ensuing uproar, administrators held a forum attended by more than 20 students in which officials answered student questions.
Both Diamondback staff members and university officials agreed that relations are more pleasant after that meeting.
“The tone is more friendly, more cordial,” Schuler said. “It’s now what it should have been.”
Kunkel also said there has been a change in tone, but said the administrators never intended to inappropriately exercise influence upon the paper.
Schuler said the Diamondback is now considering many of the university’s suggestions, but Schuler is holding his ground in some respects.
“There is no way we are getting an editorial advisor,” Schuler said.