HAMDEN – In the latest twist in the ongoing battle between Quinnipiac University administrators and student journalists, university officials have restricted the editorial content of an independent online student newspaper by denying reporters access to all varsity coaches, staff and athletes, the News learned Wednesday.
In an e-mail provided to the News by a Quad News editor, Quinnipiac Director of Athletic Communications Chuck Menke wrote to the newspaper’s staff last week that the school, “won’t be able to make any student-athletes, coaches or staff available for interviews” with the online paper’s sports staff. The editor, who asked to remain anonymous, said the administration later offered to meet with members of the paper’s sports desk in regards to the e-mail.
Even as they make a decision that journalism experts said would effectively cripple the Quad News’ abiilty to report on the university’s athletic programs, the administration continues to remain hushed about the saga, which began when tightening control of the university’s main student paper, the Quinnipiac Chronicle, led to an exodus of editors and the creation of the Quad News.
The university’s President John Lahey and Vice President of Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Associate Vice President of Public Relations John Morgan, reached via e-mail, declined to comment about the athletics restrictions against the Quad.
Four Quad News editors interviewed also declined to comment on the incidents that have unfolded the past several weeks, saying it is too early to assess how the situation will turn out, although one did say that he hopes that a sit-down between the Quad News’ sports staff and the administration takes place soon.
These discussions may, in fact, eventually take place at an even higher level within the university.
When asked Wednesday afternoon, Paula Miller, a member of the university’s Board of Governors, Quinnipiac’s highest governing body, said she suspects the Board will discuss the battle that has played out between the student journalists and the administration for almost a year.
“I’m sure it’ll be brought to the Board of Governors meeting,” she said in an interview.
The university’s response to student journalism, though, is not entirely out of the ordinary. Griffin McGrath, the student who was handpicked to take over the Chronicle’s editorial content and finances after former editor in chief Jason Braff left to form the Quad News, once wrote in an e-mail to this reporter, “In order to perform an interview, you must first contact Quinnipiac’s media relation’s department as it is the only area authorized to speak on behalf of the University.”
When this reporter received permission from Bushnell to contact McGrath about the Chronicle, McGrath responded in an e-mail that he will not “be available” for phone interviews. But he did said that he will look forward to making the Chronicle a “more successful student newspaper.”
Since that e-mail exchange, members of the Chronicle, including McGrath, have not responded to phone and e-mail messages requesting comment.
For many universities across the country, it is quite common to find a public relations strategy in which administrators must get permission from the department before speaking to any media.
“It would certainly make you worry of a culture of intimidation that keeps the employees of the student newspaper from feeling they can speak freely,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the student Press Law Center.
Several Quinnipiac journalism professors interviewed Wednesday said they are not surprised by McGrath’s e-mails, especially because the of the administration’s past track record with Chronicle editors.
About a year and a half ago, current Quad News editor in chief Jason Braff was a paid editor in chief of the Chronicle. After complaining about the inability to publish breaking news online, administrators threatened to remove him from his position if he were to continue speaking negatively about the school. Soon after, Braff and most of his co-editors left the Chronicle.