One and a half years after an online-censorship incident prompted Quinnipiac University’s weekly student newspaper to rally for independence against the school’s administration, the student journalists may get its wish — at least partially.
A media task force created by Quinnipiac President John Lahey two months ago to investigate university media policy recommended this week that the administration no longer have direct editorial and financial control over the Quinnipiac Chronicle. The decision follows a 2006 controversy during which administrators forced the newspaper — a registered student organization — to remove an article about two students arrested for public urination that was posted without university approval.
After the split, which the task force recommended should occur within a year, the university will appoint a paid senior business student as the newspaper’s publisher — the highest ranking student official on the paper. The publisher will oversee the finances and have ultimate editorial control, although the editor in chief will continue to receive a stipend from the university.
Although administrators said the plan will ensure independence — since administrators would not be able to dictate content directly — the publishing board will include not just the paper’s publisher but the president of the Quinnipiac Student Government Association and three university administrators. Chronicle editors said they are ambivalent about the plans, which have yet to be finalized.
According to administrators, the task force’s plan, which still needs final approval from Lahey, will benefit students because it reflects “newspapers in the real world,” Quinnipiac University Vice President of Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell said in a statement. The group researched college papers throughout the northeast — including Villanova University’s student newspaper, The Villanova, as well as the News — before crafting its own model
“The task force’s hope was to create a real-world experience for our students,” Bushnell continued.
Bushnell was unavailable to comment further because she was out of the office until Friday, a representative said.
But even if the recommendations are approved, it is still unclear whether the newspaper has the finances to support itself.
In the statement, Bushnell declined to comment on whether it would be financially feasible for the newspaper to be independent within a year, saying it is “too early” to tell.
Bushnell told the New Haven Register that administrators will create a plan to cut all ties with the newspaper next year.
But in an early March Student Government Association meeting, she estimated the time to establish newspaper independence to be several years, the Chronicle reported last March.
Chronicle editors said while they welcome changes to the previous policy, there are both advantages and disadvantages to the plan at its current state.
Chronicle editor in chief and Quinnipiac junior Jason Braff told the Register that independence will only be as successful as the transitional year itself.
Braff did not return an e-mail and voicemail request for comment on Wednesday.
Quinnipiac Chronicle faculty adviser Margarita Diaz could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
But the News’ current editor in chief Andrew Mangino ’09 questioned whether the proposal will make the newspaper truly independent since, under the proposed structure, the publisher will report to individuals that the newspaper purports to cover neutrally.
“[The publishing board proposal] opens a Pandora’s Box of potential pitfalls — legal, journalistic and ethical,” he said.
Several journalism experts said they hesitate to form an opinion on the plan until the recommendations are more finalized.
Alex Halavais, a Quinnipiac professor of communications, said at the plan’s current stage, the newspaper will be only quasi-independent from the administration.
Right now, the plan “seems to be in flux, in some interim position,” he said.
Halvais said he is also “disappointed” and “surprised” that no members of the newspaper or the communications department took part in working in the task force.
The conflict started with a dispute over the Chronicle’s Web publications policy in November 2006 when the Chronicle simultaneously published print and online versions of an article covering the arrest of two freshman basketball players after a public urination incident.
Lahey — who was unaware at the time that the two articles were published and that the Chronicle had a Web site — was later contacted by Connecticut Post reporters about the incident. Because the university can have final say on editorial content, Quinnipiac administrators soon created a Web publications policy, which forbade the Chronicle from publishing articles online before they appeared in print.
Both administrators and Chronicle editors had sparred over the Web policy for months before the task force was formed in January.
The task force consists of Bushnell, Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Manuel Carreiro and Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Kathleen McCourt. Quinnipiac associate professor of journalism Paul Janensch was initially asked to participate in the task force, but Bushnell later retracted the invitation, the Chronicle reported last January.