With The Chronicle facing an uncertain future, editors David Westerberg and Kendra Butters sat down to compare notes with student journalists from other universities in a panel discussion on free press issues on college campuses.
The event, which was organized by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), took place in the Quinnipiac University Law School’s Grand Court Room last Wednesday night. It featured journalists and editors from the University of Connecticut (UConn) Daily Campus, the Yale Daily News and the Trinity Tripod, along with the editors from The Chronicle.
The representatives from Yale University and Trinity College expressed their reservations about a proposed transitional structure that would install a business student as publisher of The Chronicle.
“I’d disband the paper before that happened,” said Joe Tarzi, editor in chief of The Trinity Tripod. “I don’t think the administration would be able to do that because we’d just say no and walk away.”
The Yale Daily News’ News Editor Tyler Hill was also opposed to such a structure, which he believes would compromise a paper’s integrity.
“The business/edit divide is extremely weird,” Hill said. “It’s one of the stranger parts of a newspaper. Business people cannot run an editorial board. We have an obligation to print what’s right, not what’s profitable.”
The discussion also centered on drawing a comparison between other campuses and the situation at Quinnipiac, where The Chronicle has been in open conflict with the administration.
In addition to the web policy, which does not allow articles to appear online before being published in the paper’s in-print edition, Chronicle staff learned last semester that administrators had to receive approval from the Office of Public Affairs before they spoke with them.
When Editor-in-Chief Jason Braff criticized the policy in an interview with an outside publication, he was reprimanded in a statement from Dean of Students Manuel Carreiro that implied that his position was in jeopardy.
President Lahey created a task force comprised of Carreiro, Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Kathleen McCourt and Vice President for Public Relations Lynn Bushnell to examine the media layout of other universities and to recommend a new media structure at QU.
It was only recently that the administrative task force proposed that The Chronicle become an independent publication. The paper is currently financially backed by Quinnipiac, in contrast to its Yale and UConn counterparts, which are not in any way bound to their respective universities.
The Yale Daily News generates 35 percent of its revenue from student fees. The other 65 percent comes from advertising. At Yale, the staff works out of a building that is owned by the paper. Like UConn’s Daily Campus, much of the paper’s funding comes from advertising.
“We are editorially and financially independent,” Yale’s Hill said.
The Tripod, however, relies entirely on the funding it receives from Trinity.
“If our funding were cut by the college we’d be out of business in three years,” The Tripod’s Tarzi said.
Tarzi does not think that the paper could generate enough funds in advertising revenue if it were to sever its ties with Trinity, despite the fact that it wears an independent label.
“We are independent but we’re not, because the Student Government could shut us down anytime,” Tarzi said.
Although Westerberg welcomed the notion of The Chronicle’s impending independence, he recognizes the challenges ahead.
“I don’t think in theory that becoming independent is horrible at all,” he said. “But at this time we’re not ready. I think it is going to happen, but to rush it would certainly be a mistake.”
A relatively small paper, the Tripod would have difficulty selling ad space, Tarzi said.
Butters, however, is confident that The Chronicle will be able to find businesses in the area who would be willing to advertise with them.
The task force recommended a transitional year, during which the administration will appoint a senior business student to serve as publisher of the paper, said Professor Margarita Diaz, who serves as The Chronicle’s advisor. In this transitional structure, The Chronicle’s editor in chief would report to the student publisher.
At Yale, the editorial board and the business department are constantly in dispute, Hill said.
“We would never submit to their authority,” he said.
Chronicle members expressed dissatisfaction with the terms under which they may become independent.
“The fact that they’re even proposing the idea kind of enrages me,” Butters said. “I would just think it would be someone who would work their way up and deserve to be there. With our independence comes all these strings attached.”
The structure, however, will only be transitional, according to Diaz. Once the paper gains its financial footing, Chronicle staff should be able to take back some control, she said.
“The reality is that a newspaper is a business,” Diaz said. “If there were no ads in the paper there would be no paper.”
None of the student papers represented at the forum have ever been censored, although The Chronicle has had its share of clashes with administrators.
“Now you have to go through public relations for the majority of your articles,” Butters said. Although the policy is not new, only this year has it been strictly enforced according to Chronicle editors. However recently they say it has been easier to access administrators.
Administrators contend that The Chronicle’s web edition allows campus news to stretch beyond the borders of Quinnipiac. They assert that the policy is in place to ensure that the information that is being distributed is accurate. News printed in The Chronicle, however, is rarely picked up by outside media according to Westerberg.
“In fact, the university began drawing attention to itself amidst the free press controversy,” he said.
Butters added, “I feel as though the administration feels that we’re just students and that we’re going to get the facts wrong. It’s almost like they’re kind of talking down to us.”
The web policy especially is a hindrance because students have to wait to post breaking stories on the newspaper’s Web site, Butters said.
“It allows rumors to spread before the facts can get up there,” she said. “I think the administration is almost getting paranoid. In a sense it has affected the way we have to report things.”
The Yale Daily News, on the other hand, has a Web site that is equipped with video and radio features.
“We think that the web is the greatest thing ever,” Hill said. “It’s the new frontier. People are actually paying attention to our updates and what we do online and it’s very encouraging.”
Tarzi emphasized the importance of keeping both a print and online edition. At Trinity, administrators, faculty and alumni tend to get their news from the newspaper’s Web site, while students are more apt to pick up the print edition, he said.
“We recognize where our readers are,” Tarzi added.