Defending independent college journalism

A student paper’s board of directors attempted to wrest control of the paper from students. A strike ensued.

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 EmeraldâÄôs board of directors and strongly support the strike until the staffâÄôs demands are met and independent student journalism can be safeguarded from such attacks at the Emerald and on college campuses nationwide. On Thursday, the 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. In November, the board of directors hired Emerald alumnus Steven A. Smith as a consultant, and he drafted a plan that included a call to hire a publisher. Smith then authored the publisherâÄôs job description as well as his own terms of employment for the position, which the board approved without negotiation. On Feb. 24, the board voted to hire Smith as the EmeraldâÄôs publisher and to give him unprecedented control over the full paperâÄôs operation, including supervising the editor-in-chief. Smith could also have been concurrently employed by the University, creating a clear path for the University to control what should be student-produced editorial content. 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 student journalists, but if the board continues to wrest control from students, the EmeraldâÄôs mission and legacy will be invalidated. Without objectivity and independent content 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 paperâÄôs autonomy. The decision to give a publisher sway over journalists would in no way solve the paperâÄôs financial crisis; as such, this seems to be a callous overreaching by the board and the University, and an attempt 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 newspaper business. 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. Practicing journalism under the possibility of censorship and the meddling influence of an administration undermines the purpose of a free press âÄî we hope that the EmeraldâÄôs board will recognize this undeniable fact and immediately meet the staffâÄôs demands. Until then, we stand with the Oregon Daily Emerald. This editorial, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the Daily Californian at UC Berkley. Please send comments to [email protected]