Standing Behind Student Press

March 6, 2009 12:00 am0 comments

On Wednesday morning, the entire editorial staff of the Daily Emerald — the student-produced newspaper at the University of Oregon — went on strike in protest of the attempts of its board of directors to install a publisher with unprecedented control over the newsroom.

Today, college newspapers across the United States and Canada stand in solidarity with the editorial staff of the Daily Emerald in support of the independent collegiate press and student-controlled editorial content. We are deeply dismayed by the short-sighted actions of the Emerald’s board of directors and strongly support the strike until the staff’s demands are met.
On Thursday the paper’s board of directors had the audacity to publish their own version of the Oregon Daily Emerald using content from The Associated Press and a front-page statement from the board. This move is as offensive as it is unwise.

Back in November, the board of directors hired Emerald alumnus Steven A. Smith as a consultant to oversee the future financial security of the newspaper. Smith drafted a plan that called the Emerald to hire a publisher and he himself applied to serve as the interim publisher while a search was conducted to fill the position. On Feb. 24, the board voted to approve Smith’s appointment, giving him unprecedented control over the full paper’s operation, including supervision of the editor in chief. The agreement required that Smith be paid $80,000 for the 12-month period he served as publisher. He would also be allowed to teach at the university’s School of Journalism and Communication.
In the face of the strike, Smith has decided to withdraw his decision to accept the position. Today the Emerald staff demands a nationwide search for a new publisher, whose authority would not extend over the editor and who would not be employed by the university.

Since its inception, the Oregon Daily Emerald has served as an invaluable learning resource for its budding student journalists, but if the board continues to wrest control from students, the Emerald’s mission and legacy will be compromised. Without objectivity and independent editorial control in the newsroom, the paper cannot properly train its student reporters and the campus will lose an irreplaceable source of information, outside of the influence of university public relations efforts.

The Emerald, like many papers across the country, is in dire financial straits and faces the possibility of closure. This financial reality, however, should not force the staff to compromise their guiding ethics as journalists or to sacrifice the paper’s autonomy. The decision to give a publisher sway over journalists would in no way solve the paper’s financial crisis. It rather represents an attempt on behalf of the university to take advantage of a financially struggling, but influential student organization while the time is right.

We are living in a tough time for the journalism industry. Now more than ever, we must stand strong and stand together to maintain our editorial independence — any measure of overarching interference in content undermines our journalistic standards and is unacceptable, no matter the financial situation. We hope that the Emerald’s board will recognize that censorship and administrative meddling undermines the purpose of a free press and will make the move to meet the staff’s demands “to preserve student control and editorial independence.”
Until then, we stand by the Oregon Daily Emerald.

The above statement was written in collaboration with the staffs of The Brown Daily Herald, Brown University; The California Aggie, UC Davis; City on a Hill Press, UC Santa Cruz; Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech; The Daily Aztec, San Diego State University; The Daily Bruin, UC Los Angeles; The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley; The Daily Cardinal, University of Wisconsin-Madison; The Daily Evergreen, Washington State University; The Daily Iowan, University of Iowa; Daily Kent Stater, Kent State University; The Daily Lobo, University of New Mexico; The Daily Nexus, UC Santa Barbara; The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University; The Daily of the University of Washington; The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania; The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University; The Daily Reveille, Louisiana State University; The Daily Targum, Rutgers University; The Daily Texan, University of Texas at AustinThe Daily Wildcat, University of Arizona; The Gateway, University of Alberta; The Highlander, UC Riverside; The Independent Alligator, University of Florida; The Martlet, University of Victoria; The McGill Daily, McGill University; The Michigan Daily, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; The New University, UC Irvine; The Stanford Daily, Stanford University; The State Press, Arizona State University; The Ubyssey, University of British Columbia; The UCSD Guardian, UC San Diego and the Washington Square News, New York University