Outrage, outrage everywhere!

The Daily Trojan today, in its final issue of the semester (which will thus be around for several weeks, including during any on-campus festivities in advance of the UCLA game in Pasadena this weekend), published a slew of the letters to the editor lambasting Dr. Jackson and sticking up for Zach Fox as the paper’s duly elected editor-in-chief. To my mild surprise, my letter was among those published, and so far as I can tell, they didn’t edit a word. Nice. :) You can read all of the letters on one page here.

The front page (PDF) also has a news article about the situation (albeit with an unfortunate headline; who outside the newsroom knows what an “EIC” is? How about “Editor’s firing provokes outrage”? Oh, well). Excerpt:

USC students and faculty and student journalists around the nation expressed concern and shock Wednesday after the administration said it would block the Daily Trojan’s editor in chief-elect from taking office. …

“It just seems to me it tromps all over the reason for having a student newspaper in the first place,” said John Kotler, professor of media law at the Annenberg School of Journalism.

“How can you have a student voice with the students being throttled by the administration? The (faculty) I’ve spoken with are outraged.” …

Kotler said he and other faculty members have asked Michael Parks, director of the School of Journalism, to put the issue on the faculty meeting agenda Monday. …

Editors at several college newspapers said complete independence from their universities’ administration is vital to their integrity.

William Marra, president of the Harvard Crimson, said editorial and financial independence from the university “is central to our ability to develop our mission.”

Marra said his newspaper’s mission, “to inform Harvard University and the Cambridge, (Mass.) community of what is going on,” would be compromised if the administration could decide its editors.

“It has a chilling effect on the reporting on the administration,” he said. “You’ll be less likely to investigate as thoroughly as a college paper has to. You can’t be beholden to anyone – coverage can lose its integrity.”

Indeed.

UPDATE: From a comment on my previous post by a “dt staffer” comes this bombshell:

DT staff are currently considering breaking away from campus — the office is nice but nothing to stick around under such duress for. but moving off campus to an independent model would require an incredibly sketchy start-up process and, more importantly, tens of thousands of dollars of risk on the part of college students who don’t have a penny to spare. it’s not off the table but is seen as an option of last resort — something the DT can’t start doing tomorrow.

UPDATE 2: Here’s a blog post by “frenchbraider,” apparently a.k.a. News Writer Diya Chacko:

The last issue of the Daily Trojan for this year is going to be epic. We are not going to put up with any administrative sh*t. Steal our ad money and then fire our elected editor-in-chief?? I think NOT. We are STUDENT-RUN precisely in order to avoid dumbf**k bureaucratic politics.

Presumably the “steal our money” line is a reference to something that “dt staffer” mentioned in the above-linked comment:

off-the-record conversations with top-level administrators have revealed that the DT subsidizes other, less successful publications to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars per year. that is advertising revenue brought in by the DT product that is fanned out to other publications which can’t support themselves in order to keep them running. clearly, student affairs — under which student publications runs — has a clear incentive to keep the budget out of students’ hands permanently. delegating all this to a task force is just a way of waiting out this tide of staffers until fox’s would-be revolution is over.

I can’t corroborate any of that, but it would explain a lot.

27 Responses to “Outrage, outrage everywhere!”

  1. dcl says:

    Please dear god someone fire the front page designer… The Pain! My Eyes! I mean seriously I support the paper’s staff, but hire someone with at least some design ability for that job of designing the paper… You know who understands how to efficiently convey information and that blocking out the papers publication date with graphics is not the best idea for a daily newspaper.

  2. Brendan Loy says:

    Hey, how’s this for a compromise. Fire Michael Jackson as Vice President of Student Affairs, hire him as the new front-page designer. Maybe he has some previously undiscovered skills in that area (certainly he can’t worse at newspaper design than he is at student affairs), and once he’s not on the administration’s payroll anymore, he won’t be a threat to the newspaper’s integrity. I’m sure he won’t mind working for a semesterly honorarium of a few hundred bucks.

    See? Problem solved. :)

  3. Mountain out of Molehill says:

    Michael Jackson “tyrannical�? Please, Brendan, let’s not be overly dramatic. The Daily Trojan gets many perks from the university, including –as you mention– an endless stream of advertising revenue and plush offices in prime student union real estate. The question to ask is, “Does Jackson have the authority to approve the DT editor or not?� Clearly he does. Exercising one’s proper authority hardly constitutes “tyranny.� Don’t bitch just because you disagree with Jackson’s decision.

    The DT has exercised notorious heavy-handedness in its dealings with the student body for years, with no checks and no balance. I’ve had a couple of run-ins with unaccountable DT editors, including once when I outed a plagiarized editorial (and even found the book and page from which the article was –verbatim– plagiarized). The aloof DT editor did nothing. I, for one, applaud the university for finally taking action and reining in some of the prima donnas at DT. Please stop accusing Jackson of “aloofness� when the adjective should be more appropriately directed at the DT staff.

    It is the nature of journalists to circle the wagons and protect their own whenever there are peceived threats from the outside world (case in point, Newspaper editorials unanimously proclaiming journalists shouldn’t have to testify before grand juries even when they witness crimes, such as those who witnessed the leaking of Valerie Plaime’s identity). Brendan, don’t fall into this group-think mentality!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Formmer Russian Prime Minister Poisoned?

  5. Texasyank says:

    A little Charles Foster Kane would do those journos good. “EIC Block”? Is that anywhere near EVK? Or more toward the VKC?

    And on day they’ll all remember the epic issue that came out on November Volleyball Player’s Ass, 2006.

    But speaking as someone who once misspelled “Israel” in a headline, my support is unwavering.

  6. Brendan Loy says:

    We misspelled the last name of the director of the journalism school in a headline one time. When I was City Editor. Front page. Lead story. Even though we spelled it correctly in (parts of) the article. Yeah.

    In my defense, I was home sick that day, and other people were filling in for me in the office. The editor-in-chief was one of the guilty parties. Unfortunately, so was my wife, so I can’t use that as a defense too loudly. :) Besides which, there’s no particular reason to believe that I would have caught the error if I’d been there…

    Anyway, man, that cast a pall over the office the next day. Nothing pisses off journalism faculty like misspelled names. So when it’s in a front-page headline, and it’s the FREAKING DIRECTOR OF THE SCHOOL… yeah.

  7. Brendan Loy says:

    P.S. LOL about the EIC/EVK/VKC Block and the Volleyball Player’s Ass. :)

  8. Texasyank says:

    Oh, and to conclude the above thought: the reporter who had written the story 1) had busted his ass writing it, and 2) had a reputation for a bad, bad temper verging on the violent. When he confronted me in the city room the next morning, I honestly thought he was going to take a swing at me. And what would my defense be? “‘Isreal’ is more how it sounds?” Luckily another staff member, a tiny woman who had pulled an all-nighter and was trying to nap under her desk, popped her head out and said, “Don’t worry about it, Joe, it’s no big deal.” Which made no sense, as she had no standing in the matter, but it did defuse things.

    Later on, the reporter and I hung out a lot until I graduated in May.

    Ah, good times.

  9. Current DT writer says:

    Private forum for DT staffers today. We’ll see if the sh-t hits the fan. I, for one, hope so. I’ll be there…

  10. Brendan Loy says:

    Keep us updated!

  11. thebeef says:

    The front page image of the DT that you linked in your post is supposedly “epic?” That’s hysterical. I was imagining BIG BLOCK LETTERS stating something like: “BASTARDS! School Administrators Oust Democratically Elected Fox, Establish Governing Junta”

    Then maybe a collection of letters on the front page? Perhaps a picture of Fox and Michael Jackson (how about that name?! Maybe a good political cartoon of M.J. molesting the DT?), you know, just blanket coverage.

    Evidently, the DT’s idea of epic includes an article about bugs in the university commons, a picture of a behemoth volleyball player blocking the date and an abscure reference to EIC. Pretty pathetic.

  12. Andrew says:

    If the “off-the-record” stuff is true, then Fox and his loyal DT staffers are really tilting at windmills here. The university has an expressed interest as a non-profit academic, educational institution in ensuring the financial survival of not just the student newspaper but other university publications as well. However “evil” Michael Jackson may be, he’d be an idiot to give away that cash flow to a transient student regime and jeopardize the existence of other important publications, whether it be the Chronicle or another publication that relies very little on advertising revenue. This battle is clearly not in the best interests of the DT, its staffers, alumni, or the students. We’re not talking about journalistic integrity and freedom of speech here, we’re talking about budgets and financial decisions. Fox is way off the mark in jeopardizing the DT over this issue, given how extraneous control over budgets is to the mission of the DT.

  13. thebeef says:

    PS: Forgot to mention: referring to this Jackson individual as a “tyrant” or likening him to an absolute monarch is WAY over the top. Out of the ballpark over the top. It’s kind of like, you know, likening Republicans to Nazis over the top.

    And Andrew, while I agree that this was INITIALLY budgets and financial decisions (or so it seems, based off of these supposed off the record remarks), the administration’s actions in removing the editor in chief have made it about journalistic integrity and independence.

    Whether or not Fox’s positions regarding the budget were right or wrong, the university’s response to his election is an entirely seperate issue.

  14. thebeef says:

    should read: “…was intitially ABOUT budgets and financial decisions…”

  15. Ed (sfv) says:

    OK, I’ll propose this again – if the DT is, indeed, producing excess revenues (aka profit) in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” that are being redistributed, why on earth can it not become a real independent paper? If the revenue exceeds the value of whatever subsidy the school provides the DT, it is an absolute no-brainer.

    There is a TON of liberal capital floating around L.A. and I can’t imagine it couldn’t be tapped for such a profitable cause.

    Or is it the case that the school first subsidizes the DT and then, as revenues allow, converts the fruits of the labor of the subsidized to others who are not enaged in such a fortunate, yet entirely worthy in an academic sense, endeavor?

  16. dcl says:

    Andrew, actually I think your off the mark a little there. If the paper is supposed to be independent and therefore obtains it’s own revenue streams those revenues are the papers not the Universities. If, on the other hand the paper is a non independent property of the University it’s revenue belongs to the University. In other words, the independent DT should not be subsidizing the PR arm of the University in the form of the Chronicle if indeed they are independent. Clearly there needs to be more transparency so that how the University relationship with the DT is better understood. If there is in fact a net profit made by the DT from advertisements there is no reason that the University couldn’t give them full control of their budget rent the currently free office space to them at something resembling market and then us that revenue stream to subsidize other publications. But if you are going to do that… Do it instead of shading the whole deal in a veil of secrecy and intrigue.

    P.S. the Chronicle is lame.

  17. Andrew says:

    Ed, I believe the vast majority of the DT’s ad revenue is from the university. If the university stopped advertising in the DT, methinks the DT would fall on pretty hard times financially, whether it was publishing on campus or off campus.

    thebeef, I respectfully disagree. To the extent that the EIC has a role in the expenditures, there could be a danger in allowing Fox to become EIC. Now, I personally don’t think that’s really true and that Jackson overreacted and/or chose a harsher measure than necessary, but I can at least agree that, while the exercise of power may have been wrong, the interest behind that exercise of power seems very legitimate to me.

  18. Andrew says:

    Dane, I don’t know enough specifics about the DT’s legal and financial status to bother arguing with you any further about this situation, so I’ll just stick by my larger point, which is that this is simply a virtually meaningless tempest in a teapot — like most campus politics.

  19. dcl says:

    Hey, I miss tea pot based tempests.

  20. David K. says:

    So if your argument is correct Andrew, that its about keeping the funding for other non-DT related papers and uses, why are they afraid to even make the budget available to be seen?

    And if problem is funding those other endeavours well, why not work out some sort of deal with the DT, charge the rent or something for the use of University facilities while still giving them control over their budget?

    But your argument doesn’t make sense to me, why would the university need to funnel funds into the DT through advertising only to take them right back out? Why not give the DT full control of their budget but scale back your advertising a bit and divert those funds to the other papers?

  21. Brendan Loy says:

    if the DT is, indeed, producing excess revenues (aka profit) in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars� that are being redistributed, why on earth can it not become a real independent paper?

    Um, because the DT doesn’t know whether it is producing said profit, and certainly doesn’t know how to reproduce it independently, because the university is HIDING ITS BUDGET FROM THE EDITORS’ VIEW?

    This is why the budget is such a central thing, and not a mere distraction as Andrew wants to pretend. Without knowing anything about their budget, the student editors of the student-run Daily Trojan do not functionally “run” the paper (just definitionally), and more practically, have no ability to analyze objectively what their fortunes would be like without university assistance. Are they making a profit? How much of a profit? What percentage of their revenues come from university advertising, what from semi-autonomous USC departments (would the English department or the Cinema school stop placing ads for its events just because the administration in Bovard had a spat with the DT? I doubt it), and what from other sources entirely? Andrew, you and I are just idly speculating about those numbers — you have no actual basis to call it a “vast majority.” The fact is, we don’t know, and neither do the editors, because the budget is hidden from them. Nor do they have any idea how much they would need to pay Darlene and the other advertising ladies, or Ron, if they want to keep them on board in the event of a split… or, more realistically (since, even if they could reproduce the salaries, they couldn’t reproduce the benefits), they have no idea how they’d go about replicating the jobs that Darlene & co. have been doing, because they don’t have the relevant advertising data. This despite the long-maintained fiction that the Daily Trojan “employs” those people, that they’re paid for out of Daily Trojan revenue, thus bolstering the DT’s claim of “independence.”

    The bottom line is this: if the DT wanted to split off and become a “real independent paper,” they’d have to start completely from scratch, without any meaningful access to the data regarding how the newspaper has been run for the last however many decades. Instead of having an existing budget to start from and tinker with, they’d be starting with a blank piece of paper. Now, I can certainly understand, from a Machiavellian standpoint, why Dr. Jackson & co. want to keep it that way. But it’s perfectly rational for the DT editors to throw a massive fit over this, because this is not some minor issue. The concealment of the budget is absolutely CRUCIAL to the balance of power between the editors and the administration, as it deprives the editors of a major rhetorical weapon in these periodic battles with the administration (i.e., the realistic threat of revolt), and that is obviously the real reason Jackson wants to keep that information out of Fox’s hands… not for some lame-ass “legitimate” reason that you are inventing, Andrew.

  22. Brendan Loy says:

    P.S. Telling the Daily Trojan that it is an “independent” paper, while secretly funneling its profits into non-Daily-Trojan-related university ventures, IS NOT LEGITIMATE!!! It doesn’t even remotely come close to passing the sniff test for “legitimacy.”

  23. Ed (sfv) says:

    Brendan – you posted information without rebuttal that USC is taking substantial DT revenue and redistributing it. If this is unknowable, why allow this on your site?

    If it is knowable, then there is a basis to plan assuming the revenue stream asserted.

    If the issue now becomes whether USC would continue to expend marketing dollars in an independent DT, it becomes the responsibility of the “new” DT to prove its worth/value.

    There also becomes the question as to if a truly independent DT would hire non-students – or even worse, Bruin grads!

    I just do not see how/why given the sybiotic relationship of this paper (and similarly nearly ALL other student papers) to the University, the DT’s staff has any right to protest/object to personnel and budgetary control the University may employ.

    If any such decisions reach a level of suckitude that one can no longer, in good conscience work there, nor read it, I invite such a person to follow through accordingly.

  24. Andrew says:

    But it’s perfectly rational for the DT editors to throw a massive fit over this, because this is not some minor issue. The concealment of the budget is absolutely CRUCIAL to the balance of power between the editors and the administration, as it deprives the editors of a major rhetorical weapon in these periodic battles with the administration (i.e., the realistic threat of revolt), and that is obviously the real reason Jackson wants to keep that information out of Fox’s hands… not for some lame-ass “legitimate� reason that you are inventing, Andrew.

    Nothing in any of my comments on this topic has suggested this isn’t an important or “legitimate” issue (if I was the DT EIC, I’d certainly like to have knowledge of the budget even if I have no power to influence it), merely that it is secondary to the mission of the DT, which is to provide students an opportunity to practice professional journalism and keep the student population informed. Who has control of the budgets has little to no bearing on that mission, so long as there is sufficient budget to support that mission. There is sufficient budget to support that mission, ergo, it is tilting at windmills for DT staffers to revolt over this issue since the administration is demonstrating keen interest (whether “legitimate” or not) for keeping control of the budget and is otherwise unconcerned with the content of the publication. This whole episode has absolutely nothing to do with journalistic integrity , DT content, and the DT staffers’ practice of journalism. NOTHING. So if you want to get your panties in a bunch about dollars and cents, fine, but don’t pretend that this kerfuffle has any bearing on the students’ ability to carry out the mission of the DT.

    P.S. Telling the Daily Trojan that it is an “independent� paper, while secretly funneling its profits into non-Daily-Trojan-related university ventures, IS NOT LEGITIMATE!!!

    Again, see above: the issue of the budget, whatever the merits of the DT staffers’ grievances from a financial standpoint, has absolutely nothing to do with the mission of the DT. If the DT’s mission truly comes first for them, they’d be wise to drop the fight and pick the battles elsewhere. So long as they are receiving enough funds to survive and carry out their mission, control over the budget is a secondary issue. Fight the primary battles, and fight the secondary battles too if you wish, but when secondary battles endanger your ability to win the primary battles, all common sense says give up and refocus your efforts elsewhere.

    And drop the “independence” discussion. As myself and others have pointed out in previous comments, the idea of independence is a feel-good legal fiction at best, and is completely subjective depending on the perspective and context. What it boils down to is this: Are DT staffers allowed to do their job and write stories and publish a newspaper with minimal* interference? The answer is yes, of course. Keep fighting to make sure that answer is always yes, but don’t fight to expand that notion of “independence” if it threatens the vitality of the DT’s mission. Get your priorities straight.

    *The university has a legitimate interest in interfering with DT content to the extent that, for legal and other reasons, it ought to minimize and eliminate things such as slander and libel, as well as ensuring content is decent by local standards (i.e. no explicit profanity, pornography, or other vulgarity without a legitimate academic/journalistic interest).

    Unfortunately, this whole spat is proving true the saying that the pettiest disagreements are always the most bitter.

  25. Brendan Loy says:

    it is tilting at windmills for DT staffers to revolt over this issue

    The DT staffers are not revolting over the issue of the budget. The administration has been stonewalling on the budget for months, if not years (I’m not sure how long this has been a live issue), and there has been no “revolt.” They are revolting over Dr. Michael Jackson’s unilateral decision to prevent the duly elected editor-in-chief from taking office — which, they believe, is motivated by the issue of the budget. So while the budgetary issue is relevant, it’s not “the issue” that they are revolting over. There’s a very big difference.

    Whether or not a revolt over the budget would be appropriate — and I think reasonable minds could disagree on that point — Dr. Jackson’s effective firing of Zach Fox is a perfectly valid reason to revolt, as virtually everyone except you seems to understand. No matter how “subjective” the notion of “indepedence” might be, it is clearly over the line for a single administrator to unilaterally block the election of an editor-in-chief for no other reason than a disagreement with him about how the paper should be run. At that point, it is NOT A STUDENT-RUN NEWSPAPER anymore. We’re not talking about libel or pornography, we’re talking about a bald-faced power grab by the administration.

  26. Andrew says:

    Whether or not a revolt over the budget would be appropriate… Dr. Jackson’s effective firing of Zach Fox is a perfectly valid reason to revolt….

    The two issues are completely connected! As your original post quoted:

    [Journalism professor and Daily Trojan faculty adviser Larry] Pryor said the board’s main concern with Fox’s application was the severity and swiftness of change.

    “He can’t just do something like this overnight. He could make some serious mistakes that could hurt the Daily Trojan,� Pryor said. “I admire his nerve and the changes he’s made this fall. But if he’s got a vision, he needs to bring everyone along. It would take at least six months to work this out, not the next six days.� …

    If Fox had planned to do anything drastic in his second semester at the helm, Jackson’s actions, while probably overly harsh (what, school administrators being overly harsh? You don’t say!), the underlying justification for those actions just might be reasonable — a possibility you just can’t bring yourself to consider. I am not the one with the closed mind on this issue — I readily admit I know far too little of the facts to make a complete judgment. But based on what is being reported so far on this blog, there is ample information to suggest some legitimacy behind USC’s concern. Your refusal to acknowledge the potential merits of the other side, while regrettable, is at least understandable knowing your nature and driving passions. But still, I figured you’d be beyond this kind of stuff by now. Let the ones who are still stuck in the teapot for four years deal with their own tempests instead of pronouncing victors and villians from afar. Come on, we’re more grown up than that.

  27. David K. says:

    Leave it to Andrew to support a pre-emptive attack based on limited information ;-)

    All joking aside though, isn’t the whole problem here that the administration is actively preventing all the information from being known in the first place? You claim that Brendan is ignoring the potential argument from the other side. I disagree, the problem is that the other side refuses to present their argument.

    So far as anyone can tell, Fox hadn’t even DONE anything yet. He may have had ideas the administration wasn’t happy about but he hadn’t even begun to act on those ideas had he? Heck, how could he? Before anyone can do anything, they need to know what their budget ACTUALLY is. You can argue all you want that Fox might then push for things that the university doesn’t want, but um, shouldn’t THAT be where the actual fight occurs IF that happens?

    At this point the only thing that has happened is that the DT staff elected Fox and Jackson without giving ANY justification has refused to acknowledge their choice. Until Jackson deigns to grace the lowly peasants with his reasons for the refusal we can only go one what we do know, and even if there are ultimately some legitimate concerns, the way in which they were addressed was completely wrong