Archive for the ‘Daily Trojan: Zach Fox controversy’ Category

Fox: DT‘s independence is a lie

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Former Daily Trojan editor-in-chief Zach Fox — the subject of massive controversy last semester, as you may recall — pens an opinion piece in today’s paper… and this blog gets a shout-out. In fact, a comment by Texasyank is quoted. Excerpt:

After Jackson’s unilateral dismissal of the staff vote came an ego-stroking outpour of anger from former Daily Trojan staffers. Most active was Brendan Loy, a DT alumnus and current graduate student at Notre Dame, who slammed the administration with posts on his blog, brendanloy.com. Among the more than 100 comments posted in response to his posts, it becomes clear that the administration has long influenced the editorial content of the Daily Trojan.

One post from a former staffer said that while the university doesn’t blatantly censor articles, it influences coverage by offering advice “dispensed in a flattering, you-know-dear-you’re-better-than-this sort of way.”

Fox argues forcefully that the Daily Trojan is not, in point of fact, a “student paper,” and that recognition of this simple reality is essential to the newspaper’s integrity. Read the whole thing.

Another victory for DT independence

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

From beyond the (metaphorical) grave, former Daily Trojan editor-in-chief Zach Fox scores a major victory:

Administrators at the University of Southern California have agreed to implement a former editor’s recommendations that were submitted in his platform for reappointment, which was rejected by the school.

The changes include increased salaries for the staff and more transparency regarding the paper’s budget. Former Editor in Chief Zach Fox offered the suggestions in his attempt at a second term as editor, which was blocked by the university’s media board.

The devil’s in the details, of course, but this sounds like progress. I’ll try to see what else I can find out from sources on staff.

P.S. Speaking of Fox, here’s a recent article from U.S. News that features some quotes from the ex-editor, reflecting on last month’s controversy.

UPDATE I guess this is actually somewhat old news. Here’s the DT article about it, published on January 19, with more details.

On its face, the university’s approval of Fox’s suggestions — which were actually made back in September, then discussed at length by a “task force” set up by Student Affairs — seems to suggest that December’s controversy was overblown, that the university’s motives in rejecting Fox were never as sinister as Fox’s defenders (myself included) suggested. However, it is equally plausible to surmise that the massive public rebuke USC received for forcing Fox out forced the administration to take these recommendations more seriously and ultimately approve them, lest more public pressure follow. The truth is, we’ll never know whether these recommendations would have been accepted if the events of December hadn’t occurred.

More newspapers blast USC; Beecher approved by Media Board

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

A dozen-and-a-half college newspapers across the country, including the Daily Trojan itself (in its online edition) — though not, alas, the Observer — published a “collaboratively written editorial” today that blasts the USC administration for its actions in the Zach Fox controversy. The L.A. Times published it, too. Money quote:

Our society relies on its newspapers to check powerful individuals and institutions. An administration-controlled student paper poses the same threat to an academic community that a state-controlled press would to a nation; oversight limits the press’ ability to act as a watchdog and prevent misuse of authority. The USC administration’s interference with the student press creates a chilling effect, forcing student journalists to weigh the risk of losing their jobs against the duty of writing a story about or questioning the administration. Such considerations hamper a paper’s ability to do its job. If USC intends to imbue any journalistic values in its students, it must allow its students to be journalists without fear of administrative reproach.

The editorial reveals that Fox’s hand-picked successor, Jeremy Beecher, was approved by the Media Board yesterday. This despite the fact that, from what I understand, Beecher intended to go into the Media Board meeting and straightforwardly demand full editorial autonomy immediately, including disbanding of the Media Board process itself. I don’t know how that turned out, but I do know that Jeremy Beecher is officially the editor-in-chief. Sounds like progress.

P.S. The Daily Californian signed on to the collaborative editorial, but also published its own editorial, proposing a more radical solution: “when Michael L. Jackson, USC vice president for student affairs, announced last week that the board had refused to even hear the application of incumbent editor in chief Zach Fox, the choice of the Trojan’s employees, there should have been only one acceptable response—a staff walkout.”

Heh. Typical Berkeleyites. :)

The Daily Cal concludes: “while this editorial should not be interpreted as a call for the Daily Trojan to declare their independence, now is the time for bold action. Student publications across the country, from the Daily Californian to the Harvard Crimson, have united in support of the Trojan staff. But it is ultimately up to them to salvage their paper. And if history is any lesson, timid appeasement is hardly the way to go about it.”

Fox ally Beecher elected Daily Trojan editor

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Jeremy Beecher, the close ally and anointed successor of ousted editor Zach Fox, “overwhelmingly” won the second election for Daily Trojan editor-in-chief Friday.

Fox, who won the first election but was prevented from taking office by USC Vice President of Student Affairs Michael Jackson, decided last night to throw his support to Beecher in the second election. He was apparently successful in nixing a write-in campaign on his behalf and consolidating support behind Beecher.

Fox will serve under Beecher in a lesser capacity — precisely what capacity is not clear — and they will continue to pursue the reforms that Fox had promised, which so irked the administration that they refused to recognize Fox’s initial election. (Facing intense pressure and bad press, the administration eventually pledged to respect the results of today’s election even if Fox had won as a write-in candidate, but Fox reportedly decided that his long-term goals would be better served by remaining more behind-the-scenes while his ally Beecher assumes the reigns. Fox told the Harvard Crimson yesterday: “I feel like it might be beneficial, not to stop fighting this, but if someone else were to fight it so that the administration would realize that this is a demand for transparency that hopefully won’t go away.”)

Zachary Franklin, who lost to Fox in the first election and sided with Dr. Jackson in the ensuing conflict, reportedly self-destructed as he “completely went off in his speech,” drawing gasps as he accused Fox and Beecher of playing martyrs in pursuit of “personal glory.” Franklin “really killed his chances with his own speech,” according to my source.

I don’t have the exact vote tally, and don’t know whether it will be forthcoming. [UPDATE: Reportedly, there were 36 votes for Beecher, 4 for Franklin, and 2 write-ins for Fox.]

So ends, somewhat anticlimactically, this stage of the Zach Fox controversy. As I wrote previously:

Electing Beecher rather than Fox (and putting Fox in a more behind-the-scenes capacity) strikes me as a “lose the battle, win the warâ€? strategy. Obviously, it would be a cathartic moral victory to elect Fox a second time, forcing the administration to accept the very candidate it initially rejected. But, according to one of my sources on staff, “editorial and financial independence are the eventual goals” — and, according to another source, the fear is that it will be more difficult to achieve those goals with Fox as the newspaper’s public face, given how many administrators he has already angered. Beecher is, I gather, viewed as more diplomatic, or at least as having less baggage simply because he’s not Zach Fox. …

The good news is, although a decision by the staff to elect someone other than Fox might seem like a victory for the administration, it’s a hollow one. Not only would a Beecher/Fox administration at the DT continue to push for much-needed reforms that the administration would rather not see happen, but the mere fact that Jackson has been forced to furiously backpedal and publicly pledge to accept a second Fox victory is itself a major victory for Daily Trojan independence. After seeing how this played out, methinks the administration will be very hesitant to make a move like this one again. By overplaying his hand, Jackson has weakened his (and the Media Board’s) position, long-term.

It’ll be interesting to see how things play out next semester, and I hope my new contacts at the Daily Trojan will keep me informed. :)

UPDATE: A little bit behind the times, but I just noticed this post on L.A. Observed which contains a video report from yesterday’s forum with Dr. Jackson:

The money quote comes from Jackson, who waffles on whether he “regrets” rejecting Fox’s application, but then says: “Maybe if I faced the same situation in the future, I might do it a little bit differently.” This is precisely what I was talking about above. Whether he wants to directly admit it or not, Jackson has obviously been chastened by this experience, which is a victory for the editors in their power struggle with the administration. And what’s great is, from Jackson’s persective, this setback was entirely self-inflicted. Thanks to his general ham-handedness, the administration came off looking arbitrary, arrogant and censorious. Personal foul, 15-yard penalty, first down student editors.

That said, the interview with Jackson also brings to mind an important hurdle that will be the next major “event” in this story: the Media Board will meet on Monday to consider editor-elect Beecher’s application. What will they do? I’d bet the house they approve him with nary a peep of protest, in light of all the bad press of the past week. But we won’t know for sure until Monday.

UPDATE 2: Michael Jackson just sent out an e-mail in response to the letter from 15 ex-editors that lambasted his decision and called his initial refusal to explain it on-the-record “perhaps arrogance, perhaps cowardice, but…certainly not leadership.” His response?

Dear Blake [Hennon]:

Thanks very much for your thoughtful email. We will keep these thoughts in mind as we work with students to make sure the DT continues to be an excellent student newspaper and educational, training, and leadership development program for students.

I hope all else is well.

Sincerely,

Michael Jackson

Split vote very possible as DT election looms

Friday, December 1st, 2006

With mere minutes until the Daily Trojan re-vote is scheduled to commence (noon PST, 3pm EST), one of my sources on the newspaper staff reveals that there is an ongoing split within the staff regarding whether to vote for Zach Fox or Jeremy Beecher, despite Fox’s attempts to throw his support to Beecher. My source writes:

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And the outrage rolls on

Friday, December 1st, 2006

While we wait for word on the Daily Trojan revote, here’s yet another angry letter to the USC administration from yet another slew of ex-editors — including several of my fellow colleagues and one of my former editors, Jennifer Medina, now the Hartford bureau chief of the New York Times (and author of many front-page articles on the Lamont-Lieberman race). I think it may be the best letter yet. Money quote:

The manner of the rejection and excuses offered are appalling and insubstantial, respectively. That the vice president of student affairs would veto the staff’’s selection for its editor is unconscionable. That the vice president of student affairs would then decline to comment on the record about his actions to the very students he is supposed to serve is perhaps arrogance, perhaps cowardice, but it is certainly not leadership. The “job descriptionâ€? defense offered by the administration is narrow, disingenuous and untenable. Fox’s election should stand.

Emphasis mine. I love it! Complete letter after the jump.

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Daily Bruin sticks up for Daily Trojan

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Now that’s something you don’t see every day — and especially not the day before the big football game! But the Bruin‘s editors are right:

[A]lthough we may have little in common with our crosstown rival, something we can all probably agree with is that such administrative control over the student press, no matter where, is unacceptable. …

USC has one of the best journalism schools in the country and the administration should be teaching its students about freedom of the press, not how to stifle and control the media.

Administrators should allow the students complete control of The Trojan, and take the high road in this matter. If the new job descriptions of the editor and managing editor cause problems, the staff should be able to learn for themselves, without big brother intervening.

Well said!

But UCLA still sucks. :)

Fox will reportedly throw his support to DT ally

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Developments are moving fast and furious now in the Zach Fox controversy. As the article by Joshua Sharp below indicates, Vice President of Student Affairs Michael Jackson has expressed regret over his decision to block Fox’s election as editor-in-chief — while insisting that “the decision I made can’t be undone” and today’s re-vote must go forward — and has vowed to respect the results of today’s election, even if Fox is elected again. However, I’m now hearing that Fox has asked his close ally Jeremy Beecher, the editorial director who was in line to become Fox’s managing editor next semester, to run for editor-in-chief in his stead. Fox will reportedly urge people who had planned to write him in to vote for Beecher instead.

If Beecher is elected — and that’s not a foregone conclusion, as the result of the first election was a relatively close 37-24 (or 37-28; there are conflicting reports) — he and Fox will essentially pursue the Andrew Long stealth solution, with Fox carrying on his planned reforms from a behind-the-scenes capacity while Beecher will run the paper day-to-day as editor-in-chief. In essence, Beecher would be doing the same job that Fox had wanted him to do as managing editor, just with a different title. (Recall that a major portion of this controversy revolves around Fox’s desire to delegate many of the chief editor’s day-to-day tasks to other editors.) I’m not sure whether Beecher would appoint Fox as his managing editor under this plan.

However, the whole thing is still mired in considerable mystery, because while I have it on good authority that the above-stated plan is what Fox and Beecher had agreed upon as of very early this morning, just a few minutes ago I received an e-mail from a staff member who is a strong Fox supporter, and he was clearly unaware of any plan to vote for Beecher instead of Fox, writing: “The regular contributors to the paper (beat reporters, etc.) seem to be rallying around Fox, from what I can tell. However, their numbers alone will not win this election, and it’s difficult to say exactly how they’ll vote. … I personally believe and hope Fox will win in today’s election. I’m afraid it will be close, however, simply because of the obstacles inherent in waging a write-in campaign.”

Given the hour (it’s 5:45 AM Los Angeles), I suppose it’s unsurprising that the word hasn’t gotten around yet. However, with less than three hours until absentee voting begins (and just over six hours until the in-person election), the confusion raises the possibility of a “split” vote between Fox and Beecher. That could potentially throw the election to Zachary Franklin, the current city editor who ran against Fox the first time and is running again.

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USC administrator calls for compromise after Daily Trojan backlash

Friday, December 1st, 2006

By JOSHUA SHARP, Dec. 1, 2006

The administrator who previously blocked the former Daily Trojan editor-in-chief’s re-election to the job said he would not veto the nomination again if it came to him after today’s special election.

Michael Jackson, vice president of student affairs, spoke during an open forum for Daily Trojan staff members in Topping Student Center yesterday.

More than 30 people attended, including Daily Trojan staff members, faculty from the School of Journalism and employees from Student Affairs.

“I’m clearly open to moving forward and talking about this,” Jackson said, calling for a “healthy respect for the process that is in place.”

Jackson sparked an outcry from students, faculty and alumni when he refused to present Zach Fox’s nomination to the Media Board for approval.

Fox was the fall 2006 editor-in-chief until he resigned in response to Jackson’s refusal. Daily Trojan staff members had re-elected Fox to a second term by a vote of 37-21.

The Media Board, an advisory committee composed of faculty and students, reviews all editor-in-chief nominees.

Jackson acknowledged some people were discussing the possibility of electing Fox as a write-in candidate during today’s special election, and said if Fox was re-elected again he would forward the nomination to the Media Board, provided Fox was willing to talk through their differences.

“The key is that Zach will be willing to sit with me and others and talk,” Jackson said.

“I am,” replied Fox, who was in the audience.

But some Daily Trojan staffers questioned the need for a second election.

“We voted once,” said City Editor Joanna Lin. “It was a legitimate election.”

“The decision I made can’t be undone,” Jackson said. He said today’s election must be held because other candidates not in the first election had submitted applications.

Jackson said he would review the results of today’s election on Monday.

[Article continued after the jump]

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Jackson may concede to will of Daily Trojan staff

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

Just got a brief e-mail from a staff member about a meeting with Dr. Jackson that took place earlier today. He writes:

Long story short, write in campaign for Fox will commence tomorrow and Jackson says he won’t reject the nomination a second time, provided Fox is open to a discussion and gradual implementation of any ideas, with the consent of the Media Board.

Stay tuned for a fuller account later.

Initially, at least, this reported change of heart by Dr. Jackson raises the question of why a second election is necessary, and indeed, why the result of the second election should be respected if, hypothetically, Fox doesn’t get enough write-in votes to win it. The will of the Daily Trojan staff was clearly expressed once — why the need for a revote? If Dr. Jackson is willing to do the right thing and recognize Fox, why not cancel tomorrow afternoon’s charade and just recognize him?

But in any event, this sounds like progress… or rather, like furious backpedaling by the administration, stung by all the negative attention it’s been (quite justifiably and predictably) getting for this. I hadn’t noticed until a few hours ago, but the AP has picked up on the story, so in addition to numerous angry letters from students, alumni, faculty and parents, the administration is getting tons of bad press, too. And we all know how much USC loves bad press. I wonder if Dr. Jackson got orders from a higher authority to change his tune? Hmm…

Anyway, stay tuned. I’m going to bed now, but I’ll definitely update this story in the morning. I’ll also link to the Harvard Crimson article, assuming it went forward. Oh, and by the way, the revote is scheduled for noon PST (that’s 3pm EST) tomorrow. (Here again is the Facebook event.) If any DT staffers are reading this: Re-re-elect Zach!

P.S. Anyone with information, please send updates to bloy [at] nd.edu!

“Impudent and perfunctory”

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

After the jump, yet another outraged letter about the Zach Fox affair — this one from Dane, a.k.a. dcl, to Peter Starr, Dean of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

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Harvard Crimson seeking DTers for Zach Fox story

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

Just got this message on my Facebook page:

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Outrage, outrage everywhere!

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

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.

Another disgusted alum tells USC what’s what

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

USC Class of ’04 alum Craig Stern and I weren’t always on the same side of the political spectrum back when we wrote opinion columns for the Daily Trojan, but we’re on the same side of the Zach Fox scandal. Craig’s letter to Dr. Jackson is after the jump.

And remember, kids: you, too, can lambaste the USC administration for its arrogant, tyrannical behavior! The relevant e-mail addresses are: mjackson@usc.edu (Michael Jackson, Vice President of Student Affairs); lswhite@usc.edu (Lori White, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs): cravens@usc.edu (Mona Cravens, Director of Student Publications); mparks@usc.edu (Michael Parks, Director of the Annenberg School of Journalism), lpryor@usc.edu (Larry Pryor, Professor of Journalism and, like all the aforementioned people, member of the Media Board); and of course presofc@usc.edu (Steven Sample, President of USC).

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Another Zach Fox post

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Okay, I’m going to stop obsessing over Foxgate soon, honest. :) But, first, I just wanted to point out that I’ve created a separate category for my coverage of this, so if anyone wants to link to it, it’s there. All new posts about Foxgate will also appear in said category.

Secondly, I just wrote another e-mail that I wanted to share, this one to Dr. Michael Jackson, the various members of the Media Board, and university president Steven B. Sample. It’s after the jump.

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