A number of former Editors have formed a Support Group for the Bulldog Weekly. Brett Lewis a former Editor and now an attorney put together this memorandum:

TO: The Former Editors of The Bulldog Weekly
FROM: Brett Lewis, esq.
DATE: 12-16-2014; Updated 01-18-2015
RE: The Bulldog Weekly


Introduction to issues:
It was disappointing to learn that publication of the Bulldog has been suspended until further notice. This memorandum is drafted with prospective aims in mind for how ASUR, the university's administration, and the university's student newspaper may repair what appears to be a factious relationship and move on toward mutual goals of holding the newspaper accountable for the content it publishes, advancing its standards, and promoting an independent newspaper.

A recitation of facts:
The following facts are what I have gathered so far from discussions with many individuals, concededly most of whom are or were close to the production of the Bulldog. Voices from sources in the Administration and ASUR have been relayed to me as well. However, for a fairer assessment, many more individuals involved with the current production of the newspaper, the administration, and ASUR would need to be deposed. Some details were those added from personal experience. Up to this point, this is what I’ve got:

1.     The University of Redlands is a liberal arts university with approximately 3,000 undergraduate students who live on or near campus. While the university awards graduate degrees, the student newspaper is an undergraduate institution that serves that population.

2.     The school does not offer a journalism major. As a liberal arts university, however, it educates its students in fields that may be supplemented by experience in journalism writing and reporting.

3.     The Bulldog is the only student-published organization on campus that produces content on a bi-weekly basis.

4.     The Bulldog’s budget and oversight comes from ASUR, the governmental authority of the undergraduate student body.

5.     As a student-run organization, the Bulldog gives its student participants experience in leadership positions. It is an organization that can foster community, and create learning experiences.

6.     For at least the past decade, the Bulldog has had to contend with cuts to its budget, and unpredictable levels of support from the university’s other institutions. This inevitably has results in varied and different crises of identity and moments of low morale for its student staff.

7.     At the beginning of the 2008-2009 academic school year, production of the Bulldog was put on a brief hiatus when ASUR ceased its funding, citing the quality of its content. A group of students continued publication of the Bulldog with no funding from ASUR for a period of no less than a month but no more than a semester. The Bulldog’s funding was restored and an advisor, who remains the advisor today, was hired to mentor, teach and provide editorial guidance.

8.     Since her hiring for the 2008-2009, the newspaper advisor has brought enthusiasm, leadership, pedagogical lessons, and professional experience to the university’s student newspaper.

9.     During the Spring 2010 semester, the newspaper’s advisor taught a credit-earning class on journalistic writing. A similar class has not been offered since then.

10.  In November, the Bulldog published an article on the newly-dedicated Hunsaker Scholarship Prize. The purpose and scope of the scholarship was to award incoming freshmen students with tuition awards ranging from $4,000 a year to full-ride scholarships. The award was given by a couple who graduated from the university in 1952 and have contributed nearly $75-million dollars in total to the school so far. The article raised discrete student concerns about the criteria and method by which the university will use to award the scholarships. Among those voices contained a particularly provocative quote that asserted the award will benefit "rich, white males" to a disproportionate rate over other demographics.  

11.  The 20-year-old student reporter whose byline was credited to the article in question was interrogated by either (a) member(s) of ASUR and/or the administration without the newspaper's editors or the newspaper's advisor first being contacted. The newspaper's editors were later contacted by ASUR and/or the administration. However, the newspaper's advisor was never asked for comment or questioned about the composition and publication of the article. 

12.  On December 11, 2014, at a regularly scheduled end-of-the-semester meeting of the newspaper's advisory committee, it was announced that by some authority within the university publication of the university's student newspaper is suspended until further notice. I assume, but am loathed to make such procedural assumptions, that the authority with this power within the university's infrastructure is ASUR and its student representatives since that political body controls the newspaper's budget. Please correct me if I am wrong. 

13.  The editors, newspaper advisor and faculty advisors who sit on the newspaper's advisory committee had little to no notice of an ASUR vote for cessation of publication. 

14.  The only mention of a student newspaper in the ASUR Constitution that has been called to my attention – and is claimed to be the only codified procedures in that document by the president of ASUR – is as follows:

ABL II. STUDENT NEWSPAPER
Section 1.       The Editor-in-Chief shall be appointed by an advisory committee consisting of two faculty, two students, two administrators, and one professional journalist. The ASUR President will preside as the chair of the board. Ex-officio members include the SLIC Advisor, the Production Advisor, and the Editor-in-Chief.

Section 2.       The Editor-in-Chief shall submit a budget request to the ASUR President who will attach this proposed budget to the one submitted to the Senate.

Section 3.       The Editor-in-Chief shall have the ability to hire staff. The Editor-in-Chief will also have the ability to fire staff according to the policies set forth in ABL VII.

15.  Among those parties involved there have been competing narratives with contradictory assertions as to the quality of the content published by the Bulldog and the paper's interest on campus this year and in recent years precedent.

16.  There has been conjecture and allegations by all parties regarding the intentions and the basis by which those intentions may or may not have been founded. There may have also been past interpersonal incidents between the leaders of ASUR and the Bulldog to have soured the two institution’s relationship. These factors may have created feelings of distrust between the parties.

Jan. 18, 2015 UPDATE:

17.  In a recently-published press release posted on the university’s website, the university avers that “[o]nly ASUR has [authority to suspend the paper]. The administration has no authority, and thus no ability, to suspend the student newspaper.”

18.  The university’s press release continues, however, to state the grounds ASUR claims justified the newspaper’s suspension:

·       ASUR took its action based on evidence-based concerns about the quality and professionalism of the Weekly's reporting, including a semester-long pattern of slanted, selective, and non-factual reporting. 
·       Over one month, the ASUR Cabinet reviewed every story in every issue of the Weekly from this semester and talked to some reporters and co-editors. The ASUR decided, among other things, that the paper is not of acceptable journalistic quality, is not a good representation of students' voices, and may represent wasted funds ($40,000) and other resources. 
·       ASUR has stated that no one article influenced its decision; rather, a much larger, consistent pattern was found during the review. 
·       ASUR found that a quotation in a recent article was fabricated. The Weekly’s editors have acknowledged publicly how the quote was created. 
·       ASUR found that the paper’s print run of just a few-hundred has returns of unread papers almost as big as the print run itself. 
·       ASUR takes the position that it is practicing due diligence, not censorship, guided by the goal of the student paper emerging from its hiatus able to practice solid, professional, ethical journalism. 
·       ASUR says that the paper’s suspension could be brief, but it will depend on an independent committee’s engagement in a transparent, inclusive process to re-envision the paper.

19.  The Bulldog Weekly’s Facebook page called into question the veracity of the university’s press release as to ASUR’s assertion that the Bulldog’s reporting was slanted, selective, and non-factual. The newspaper’s Facebook page avers that “[t]hese are new accusations as far as us co-editors and concerned and we have no idea what it could be referring to outside the Hunsaker article.”

20.  The newspaper’s faculty supporters are making efforts to put together a forum (or a couple forums) to discuss issues on journalism, and the principles of press freedom.

21.  A protest to address the newspaper’s suspension has been organized – by a group who supports the newspaper’s continued publication – that has the following four aims:

·       The newspaper will resume production in a timeframe that allows the publication of Issue 12 on Feb. 9th.
·       The committee to restructure the paper will regularly hold open forums for student input.
·       The newspaper will remain running without interruption until the committee has met its goals to the satisfaction of all parties involved.
·       A reporter from the bulldog weekly will be present every committee meeting and the minutes will be made public.

Please correct me if my understanding of the above facts are incorrect or wanting for clarity, nuance, or explanation. 

Conclusions:

1.     Regarding the Hunsaker Scholarship Price article: It is necessary and proper for the student newspaper to investigate and raise questions about the criteria and method used to award scholarship money distributed to the student body just as any newspaper covering a community should hold its leaders and institutions accountable. However, to publish such an inflammatory quote regarding the intent or prospective result of an altruistic donation without corroborating data, evidence, or researched analysis, is an error, and below the standards by which the university's student newspaper should strive. 

2.     The actions taken by ASUR and/or the university's administration were not a proper method by which to address content or quality issues presented by articles published in the Bulldog. What this incident may have demonstrated more than anything, notwithstanding any potential discrepancies in the above-listed facts, is that there currently exists a procedural void by which ASUR and the administration addresses concerns that it has with content published in the Bulldog

3.     All the parties who have been involved were damaged by this procedural void which was illustrated by this latest incident as notice of the paper's cancellation was not given to the editors or to the newspaper's advisor. It reflects negatively on the university, and damages the pedagogical and community-fostering purposes of the Bulldog

4.     The university is damaged for shutting down the newspaper as many who learned of it believe only that the reason the Bulldog was suspended was because it published an article that contained a non-staff member's quote that alleged a scholarship the university awarded had either de jur or intrinsic racist intent and/or result. Notwithstanding whether such inferences were warranted or not, the hostile cessation of publication decision gives those already suspicious of the university's administration validation for their either sensationalized or rational beliefs. This perception is neither fair to the university nor to the Hunsakers who gave a fortune to a school that they feel passionate about. To have better protected the university and been fair to the Hunsakers, ASUR and/or the administration should have expressed its concerns with the article to the editors and advisor of the paper, published a letter to the editor, and allowed the Bulldog to publish a correction, retraction or article providing clarity. In short: it should have started a dialogue and worked with the paper to improve any issue it had with the quality of its publication.

5.     Furthermore, the university loses its only regularly published student-run production. This publication is one that prospective students and parents of prospective students may find as an attractive and necessary feature of an elite university's infrastructure and community. 

6.     Regarding the newspaper's pedagogical interest: the suspension of the newspaper does little but damage the morale of those dedicated students who participate in the demanding task of publishing a paper weekly. These are 18 to 22 year old students who are likely experiencing a life outside of their hometowns for the first time and who participate in the university educational experience as much as any other student. They are bound to make mistakes, and should be afforded a chance to learn from those mistakes in the university setting where they have invested their tuition and educational experience. Thus far, the suspension of publication, apparently performed in haste, has not been used to educate those students involved in the publication of the newspaper. 

7.     Regarding the newspaper's social interest on campus: the Bulldog has the potential, and posit here that it has at times been an important institution that furthers the university's educational goals. However, there has long been a dichotomy between the interest of holding the newspaper accountable and to publication standards, and the conflict of interest inherent in that the newspaper is charged with covering the administration and ASUR, the latter of which both provides its funding and has by default the duty to reprimand the newspaper when it fails to meet acceptable standards.

8.     With the restraints named in the precedent paragraph in mind, there is value in an independent newspaper on campus. A university is a vehicle for fostering the minds of the future leaders of this country and the world. We live in a country that is a vibrant if imperfect constitutional democracy. A foundational cornerstone of a functional democracy is that of an independent press. In small democracies, like many European countries, the state will subsidize an independent press. Many universities, including the University of Redlands, subsidize their student newspapers. The university community benefits from a diverse and productive dialogue fostered by an independent student newspaper concerning its social and institutional issues. This is a forum that students may become accustomed to and continue to participate in after leaving Redlands's pristine campus when engaged with society’s mainstream presses. However, for the student newspaper to be an institution that contributes something of substance to a university that fosters the minds of the future leaders of this republic, the student newspaper must have some degree of independence. The suspension of the paper for something that it had published with no procedural protections flies in the face of both the university's mission and the utility of a student newspaper to that. 

January 18, 2015 UPDATE:

9.     Upon consideration of the university’s most-recent press release regarding the cessation of publication, the Bulldog’s social-media response, and the aims of the group organized to protest the Bulldog’s suspension, two things are apparent: i. Neither side of this controversy appears to trust each other any more than they had before; and ii. Perhaps as a silver-lining, both sides seems to assert that a committee of some form will review the newspaper and its future structure.

Preliminary Recommendations for Moving Forward:
As mentioned above, this memorandum was not drafted for the purpose of assigning blame as what has transpired has neither been a pleasant experience for anyone nor one without blame to go around. The newspaper’s articles should strive to be better than the Hunsaker Scholarship Prize article. However, even the best and most well-produced newspapers are going to make mistakes, none of which should be cause for cessation of publication. What I am interested in is how ASUR, the university's administration, and the Bulldog may move forward with the prospective of history to provide guidance. 

1.     Clearly defined procedures by which ASUR and the university’s administration may address concerns with the quality of content that the newspaper publishes should be implemented to avoid confusion, frustration and unnecessary setbacks. If it is true that the only reference to the university’s student newspaper is “ABL II. STUDENT NEWSPAPER” in ASUR’s constitution, then the lack of procedure by which ASUR’s authority to decree a cessation to publication has at least been a contributing factor to why the paper finds itself in crisis.

2.     A starting point for modification to the newspaper’s ASUR constitutional bylaws may be to mandate that official concerns of ASUR be made directly to the editors and the newspaper advisor. Further details on how the editors and newspaper advisor are to respond to official concerns may be codified as well. However, any codified mandate that dictates the content the student newspaper must publish is improper.

3.     If there is a serious grievance that ASUR and the administration have with the performance of the student newspaper, then any proposed suspension of publication or termination of the editorial staff should be heard before an arbitrating board composed of individuals associated with the university who do not control the Bulldog’s budget or tied to the university’s marketing team. This arbitrating board may also be composed to determine changes to the newspaper’s bylaws. A cause for suspension of publication or termination of the editorial staff should have procedural safeguards and clear standards of what type of conduct and performance falls below acceptable standards.

4.     However, if the university truly wants a quality student newspaper it needs to invest in the Bulldog’s mission as an independent publication that contributes to the overall educational experience of all university students. A start to such an investment would be to sanction another for-credit elective course in basic journalistic composition and reporting; or other non-credit seminars, workshops, and journalism materials. A few copies, for instance, of The Associated Press Stylebook, and other style guides and educational publications, to be distributed to the Bulldog’s staff, might be an excellent place to start.

5.     Finally, all interested parties need to temper their egos and move off their narratives to move the paper forward. Upon reinstatement, the newspaper would be wise to publish an article providing clarity and apologizing for the poorly-reported Hunsaker Scholarship Prize article. The university should recognize that the hasty shutdown of the paper was contrary to its mission of educating students, and install safeguards to assure that the newspaper can both be held accountable and maintain editorial content independent of ASUR and the administration.

January 18, 2015 UPDATE:


6.     The committee assigned to review the newspaper’s future at the university should record minutes from its meetings to be made available to all interested parties. This committee, it is my hope, is composed following the prescriptions promulgated in paragraph 3 of these recommendations.

No comments:

Post a Comment