A fortnight ago I echoed the condemnation of the New Haven Advocate: Yale had struck a deal with the New Haven Register that in return for Yale’s full page advertisements ($5,950 each) Yale’s labor strife would not sully the Register’s cover. So it was that the day after a civil disobedience that received national press, the Register chose to go with a story about a sculpture garden in Branford on the front page.
But perhaps this is just the tip of the berg. This summer Yale brokered an agreement with the Inner-City News — a free, weekly, local paper with a readership of 50,000 — in which the News would write six articles about subjects of Yale’s choice, written by authors of Yale’s approval, with final edit by Yale. Alongside these articles would run ads promoting Yale in the community — though the articles were of course little more than paid advertisements themselves. How could a “moral force” like Yale commission newspaper articles that would appear objective? Is this business as usual for Bruce Alexander and the Office of New Haven and State Affairs? How is Yale’s role in New Haven that different from a totalitarian state if they not only control the economics of the city but its media as well?
After noticing the lavish ads being placed in the Register, the Inner-City News approached Yale to sell ad space. Although the two had collaborated in the past, Yale balked at the News’ asking price as compared to those of La Voz and Black Voice. Like most businesses, the News had suffered from the economic depression and its publishing schedule was at times irregular. The News tried to negotiate a long-term ad contract, and on Yale’s side Bruce Alexander, director of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, took over for University Secretary Linda Lorimer. As an anonymous source in the News involved in negotiations put it, “We said OK, how can we structure a short term project so that you can see what we can do and then take it from there?” Yale proposed a deal wherein the News would write six articles about Yale’s community relations, specifically S.C.H.O.L.A.R., a program in which 65 high school students from Hill Regional Career High School live on campus and study science for six weeks. The deal was made, and Yale chose the theme of the articles, the authors, and specified to some authors which students they could talk to and when they could visit campus. “The coverage was closely scrutinized by Bruce Alexander, and they reserved the right to look at our final pieces for revision.” Yale denies negotiating for or possessing any editorial control.
Why would the News agree to this? “If the economic situation were different we would have negotiated that deal differently.” Furthermore, Yale’s terms were not negotiable: “We have competitors and Yale used their leverage to say ‘You either take our price and terms and run with it or we’ll do business somewhere else.'” In addition to these terms, the News lowered its price in an act of good faith for a continuing partnership. “We spelled it out in a formal letter to Mr. Levin [before the articles ran] which Bruce Alexander got highly upset about. I went on record and said in our eyes this partnership was of such value to the community, the newspaper, and Yale that we were willing to trade away dollars.” Yet for reasons unexplained Yale failed to commit to a long-term advertising deal with the News. Aside from the nature of the deal itself, Yale’s negotiations were in the worst faith: knowing that the News was making a sacrifice to establish a relationship, Yale made the deal and then effectively ended the relationship. Although Yale still advertises in the News, a long-term contract lucrative to the News was never signed.
What is to be made of this? The newspaper’s actions are deplorable rather than contemptible — in the business of journalism, small papers are at the whim of advertisers. It is sad that the economic state of the News was so poor that it felt forced into making such an agreement. But on Yale’s side we have sheer duplicity. The Office of New Haven and State Affairs brokered a deal that would give it control over what was presented as an objective, independently written article. This is behavior that is expected of a totalitarian regime, not a university committed to “truth,” and is especially disturbing because the Office of New Haven and State Affairs is Yale’s official bridge to New Haven. Where is Yale’s commitment to a free and independent press, pride of the U.S. of A.?
While its motives are translucently selfish, the fact that Yale invests in local businesses like the Inner-City News is a good thing — provided it does not attempt to control those businesses. T. Reginald Solomon of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs responded to my questions by noting that “The local NAACP branch has also encouraged us to support the Inner City and I expect we will respond favorably.” I hope so — the worst way that Yale could respond to the publicization of this information would be by removing its investment from the News, thereby punishing the paper for Yale’s own scheme.
The deal itself is sordid and unethical, but the very fact that Yale feels compelled to run a campaign of propaganda is cause for pause. As one of the writers of the aforementioned articles said, “My thing is if you’re really doing something good, you wouldn’t have to see what I write before it’s printed.”
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson is a junior in Davenport College. His column appears regularly on alternate Tuesdays.