Quinnipiac U. editors leave en masse to start independent Web outlet

By on May 2, 2008

The returning editor in chief, other returning editors and new applicants for editorial positions at Quinnipiac University’s student newspaper withdrew their applications en masse over the past week in protest of a new selection process that will allow the dean of students to select The Chronicle‘s editorial board.

Jason Braff, who had planned to reapply as editor in chief for next year, said he received 20 applications for editorial positions by the original April 7 deadline but was told by administrators to hold off on the normal selection process.

In the past, the faculty adviser and student affairs adviser selected the editor in chief and managing editors. These new editors – along with the faculty adviser and dean of students – would then select the rest of the editors after a round of interviews.

That process changed this year. A university task force in April recommended moving the Chronicle toward independence from the university. The recommendation came after a year that saw high-profile disputes between the paper and the administration, including over a policy that barred the Chronicle from posting stories online before they ran in print. That policy has been rescinded, said Lynn Bushnell, the university’s vice president for public affairs, in a statement e-mailed to the Student Press Law Center.

Students, including Braff, said they were concerned about whether the paper could survive independently from a financial standpoint.

In response, the university set up a two-year “trial structure” to govern the paper “while determining whether or not total independence from the university is financially viable,” Bushnell wrote. Under that structure, the dean of students, Manuel Carreiro, will select an editor in chief from a pool of students nominated by the deans of Quinnipiac’s schools.

Braff said under the new structure, he and the managing editors were supposed to recommend students for each editorial position – other than editor in chief – and the dean of students would make the final selection, interviewing only those applicants Braff and the managing editors recommended.

“Not only is that unfair to first-time applicants, but it is unfair that Dr. Carreiro choose next year’s editorial board,” Braff wrote in a Tuesday e-mail to all 20 applicants.

The university intends for the editor in chief to select other editors in the future, but this year “the process was complicated by the change in the selection process for the editor in chief,” Bushnell wrote.

In his e-mail, Braff announced he would not reapply for his position, said several other editors had decided to leave as well, and encouraged other applicants to withdraw. All 20 had done so by Wednesday night, Braff said. Instead, the students have begun planning a new, independent online paper, which they hope to launch in the fall.

Jaclyn Hirsch, who was campus news editor this year, said many factors contributed to the applicants’ decision to leave, including the lack of student involvement on the university task force or in developing the transitional structure.

“We’ve been in a constant battle with the administration since the beginning of the school year,” she said. “In my opinion the lack of student input has brought us to where we are now.”

Hirsch said leaving the Chronicle was “really difficult on a personal level” but that she “wasn’t willing to put myself in a situation where I felt open and free journalism wasn’t the first priority.”

The Chronicle published its last issue for the semester April 23. The university expects to have a new editorial staff in place in time for the paper to resume publishing in the fall, Bushnell wrote in her statement. But Braff and Hirsch said they do not know of anyone still applying for the positions.

Braff said he does not know what will happen to the Chronicle next year, but “I think it’s time to move on, for us.”

He and Hirsch said they are excited to launch the new Web paper, which still is in the early development stages.

“We have a great group of motivated journalists that want to report news,” Hirsch said. “And I think as long as we all stick together and keep our common goals in mind, we will all benefit from this in the end.”

Schools: Quinnipiac University