Dear President Lariviere,
I am writing to you on behalf of the Oregon Commentator, the twenty-eight year old student fee-funded journal of campus and local opinion. Throughout its existence, the Commentator has provided an alternative viewpoint on campus, providing news and editorial content that differs from other publications — student and otherwise — in the campus and Eugene communities.
The Oregon Commentator strives to be an educational organization, teaching interested students about journalistic writing and reporting regardless of degree program. Since becoming editor-in-chief of the Commentator, I have instituted a draft process for writers, allowing them the opportunity to turn in their pieces a week ahead of deadline in order to receive feedback from our managing editor, a master’s student in the magazine journalism program in the SOJC. Additionally, we have students who do work for us ranging from ad sales to art to operations management to layout to copy editing, providing the unique experience of working in every part of a news room.
The Oregon Commentator provides a relaxed environment where students can learn and work on longer-form reported pieces. While the Oregon Daily Emerald does an excellent job reporting campus news and opinions, students participating in that program are operating under much more stringent guidelines. With a news article due every day and a paper to produce every night, long-form opinion and reported pieces often end up going by the wayside in favor of more informative news briefs and condensed opinion columns.
Current students from the Oregon Commentator have had their work featured on the Student Free Press Association (a national news organization focused on independent campus journalism) and as such, have been linked to by such prestigious news organizations as the National Review, Fox News and The Atlantic. Indeed, a piece written by an OC staffer received the most traffic on the SFPA website in 2010. The Commentator is also a proud member of the Collegiate Network, an organization bringing together conservative student journalists from around the country. Alumni from our magazine have gone on to successful careers in journalism. 2006-07 editor-in-chief Ted Niedermeyer, is the editor-in-chief of a well-read automotive industry blog called The Truth About Cars, and 2007-08 editor-in-chief Philip Ossie Bladine is the editor-in-chief of an alternative weekly in Vancouver, WA called the Vancouver Voice.
I understand you have denied our request to conduct an interview with your office, citing our “lack of serious content” as a concern and worrying about appearing not suitably “presidential” within our pages. The issue in which your interview would have appeared, The Interview Issue, will include printed interviews with Dean of Students Paul Shang, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, Oregon University System Vice-Chancellor Sona Andrews, University Health Center Gynecologist Colleen Jones, and various other notable members of the campus and Eugene communities. If you don’t feel that appearing next to these individuals in the magazine is presidentially suitable , I would appreciate a list of individuals we should be interviewing instead.
You know just as well as I do how integral student programs are to student success in university communities. Students who are engaged in extracurricular activities tend to do better both in school and beyond graduation insofar as grades, job prospects and career development. But students are busy. We take classes, we have personal lives and many of us have jobs in order to cover the rent (and consistently rising tuition). It is much more likely for a student to join an extracurricular activity that will assist in career development with such limited time, and we at the Commentator believe we provide that career development for aspiring journalists. As part of the OC, students receive access to internships and fellowships across the country (by virtue of our relationships with the Collegiate Network and the Student Free Press Association) that they would not have access to simply by being a student in the journalism school. While we as a student program are eligible for stipends, we choose not to receive them. Students work for the Oregon Commentator because they care about what we stand for and are interested in learning about what it means to work for a publication.
Your comment regarding our editorial content insulted a publication that is written, produced and read by many students. Students appreciate the Commentator because it provides alternative viewpoints to the pervading culture on campus, and we feel those alternative viewpoints should be respected and given space to exist. Based on our (almost) consistent funding from the ASUO, student government representatives agree.
At this point, you have returned to us with a counter-offer: we send you questions ahead of time, and you(r public relations staff) answer(s) them for us. This is not a legitimate counter-offer (ask anyone in the SOJC about this and they will agree); if we wanted to read a press release, we would read a press release. Mr. President: when you entered your office a year and a half ago, you stated that transparency was going to be a priority for your administration. What could be more transparent than sitting down with the students you are charged with serving to answer our questions?
We are forced to wonder whether your reluctance to be interviewed has more to do with a desire not to be questioned by the very people whose futures you hold in your hands than with the editorial content of our magazine. Since you came into office, we at the Commentator are not the only ones who have been impressed with your forthrightness and honesty. It is my opinion that if you continue to refuse our interview requests we will likewise not be the only ones whose faith in that honesty is diminished.