I’m issuing this as an editorial. I’ve talked with Guy, the publisher, and he is in agreement with it. If any of the staffers disagree, that’s fine. You’re welcome to write your own opinion and post it on the blog. Without further ado:
It has come to the Oregon Commentator’s attention, as it probably has to most of the campus, that the Oregon Daily Emerald is on strike.
In a front-page editorial and separate broadsheet issued this morning, the Emerald presented what it says are unacceptable conditions forced on it by its Board of Directors and stated that it would cease publishing until the board meets the staff’s demands.
The full substance of the Emerald’s argument will not be restated in this editorial, but we will summarize it for context: The Board of Directors, going directly against the wishes of the Emerald staff, hired Steven Smith to be the paper’s new position of “interim publisher” for a year while it searched for a permanent publisher.
Smith was hired at the exorbitant salary of $80,000 a year – at a time when the Emerald is in the red and desperately seeking to increase profits. The real problem, though, was Smith was given “supervisory control” over the student editors. The current equivalent position of general manager has no such control.
Furthermore, it was hinted at by the board that Smith might teach at the UO School of Journalism. The Emerald vigorously opposed Smith’s for all these reasons and more, and presented a list of four demands to the board, reprinted here verbatim:
1. Immediately rescind the offer to Steven A. Smith to serve as interim publisher April 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010.
2. Conduct a nationwide search for a publisher, as originally voted at the Feb. 10 board meeting.
3. Stipulate in the chosen publisher’s contract that he or she shall not be employed in any capacity by the University, including at the School of Journalism and Communication.
4. Stipulate in the chosen publisher’s contract that he or she shall not have immediate supervisory control over the editor; rather, the publisher and student editor shall remain equals in the organization, as the general manager and student editor currently are.
The board ignored the Emerald staff’s complaints, and, as a final insult, made the discussion of Smith’s hiring an executive session, which means it’s closed to everybody but the board.
Some probably expect us to use this opportunity to snipe at the Emerald or revel in its problems, but the Oregon Commentator fully stands behind the Emerald and its demands.
At a time when newspapers everywhere are struggling to maintain their relevancy – both as solvent businesses and a vital public service – it is more important than ever that they conduct themselves with absolute integrity and transparency.
With this in mind, we find the Board of Director’s actions disingenuous and harmful to the reputation of not only the Daily Emerald but also the University of Oregon. One would have hoped for better from a school with a nationally recognized journalism program.
However, we are not completely surprised by the board’s conduct.
Earlier in the year, Editor-in-Chief of the Oregon Commentator C.J. Ciaramella applied to sit on the Daily Emerald Board of Directors. Readers may chuckle at the idea, and the humor of the situation was no doubt part of Ciaramella’s motivation. But he was also motivated by a strong desire to protect and make student media better. For as much as the Commentator criticizes and makes fun of the Daily Emerald, it is ultimately due to our vision of how good a student newspaper can and should be.
In fact, the Commentator was founded in 1983 by two former members of the Daily Emerald with the lofty goal of making campus media coverage and discussion more diverse, more freewheeling and more fun. If readers will allow us a moment of hubris, we feel this goal has largely been accomplished.
But we can’t do it alone. Just as the campus needs an opinionated, right-of-center publication, it needs an unbiased paper of record. Just as it needs a good arts and entertainment magazine like the Oregon Voice. Just as it needs a good radical leftist paper, unlike the Student Insurgent.
Ciaramella, who has about three or four years of college journalism experience, was denied the Board of Directors seat without being granted an interview. The board balked at allowing someone who writes for a “rival” publication to sit on the body. In an email exchange, Mark Blaine, a journalism professor Watson, former chair of the ODE Board of Directors, wrote (emphasis added):
“Your assurance that ODE Board business will not be covered by you for the Commentator helps, and it sounds like you probably have the best interests of the ODE at heart; however, as I’ve continued to think about this, the crux of the matter is that you will face an unavoidable conflict of interest. The Board has ultimate legal and moral responsibility for all acts of the corporation, and individual Directors, as fiduciaries, are legally and ethically required to be loyal to the corporation. You run a publication that competes with the ODE in several ways (e.g., for readers, student funds, etc.), and I have trouble with the idea of placing anyone in a position where their loyalty is or can be divided. Given your position at the Commentator, I don’t see how this can be reconciled. I assume you are not interested in signing a notarized affidavit or anything like that. Can you see my problem?”
The Commentator can certainly see the board’s problem. What it can’t see is how, after rejecting Ciaramella on the grounds of conflict of interest, it can justify hiring Smith, giving him supervisory control over the editorial staff of the Emerald and allowing him to teach in the School of Journalism.
As the Emerald pointed out, this creates so many conflicts of interest it’s not even funny (even to our twisted sense of humor). Imagine having one of your professors also be your boss. Conversely, imagine having your boss also be your professor.
Can you see our problem?
Perhaps its time to reevaluate just how independent or “student-run” the Daily Emerald can be while under the thumb of the Board of Directors and paid staffers. The Commentator’s Board of Directors and Board of Trustees are all students and alumni. Granted, we aren’t attempting to run a paper of anywhere near the size and scope of the Emerald’s, but we’ve managed to get along all right for 25 years with nothing but a dedicated, all-volunteer staff.
In any case, the Commentator urges the Daily Emerald Board of Directors to submit to the staff’s demands. The University of Oregon campus needs an independent newspaper of quality and depth, not beholden to the administration, faculty or the School of Journalism.
If our arguments still aren’t enough to convince the board, consider this: As long as the Emerald is on strike, the Oregon Commentator will be the only news publication on campus. You’ve been warned.