Why I’m leaving

As of yesterday evening, I am no longer an employee of the Oregon Daily Emerald.

My decision comes after two months of frustration trying to get the Daily Emerald off of College Publisher. College Publisher, for those who are unaware, is a proprietary, locked, and nearly obsolete content management system (CMS). In my opinion, the first step student newspapers must take to survive in this “digital era” is to invest significantly in adopting an open source platform for their web presence. Open source allows a student newspaper to truly evolve into a student news organization. It offers the ability for you to have the final say in how, where, and why you publish your content. In proprietary systems, you leave this technological innovation up to the company to whom you’ve contracted out the work.

A metaphor for the people who have grown up with print: open source means your newspaper design and layout can be just whatever the heck you want them to be. Proprietary code means that you only have a certain number of colors, fonts, and article lengths to work with. Your sections always stay in the same location, and you can only adjust the placement of the stories to the smallest degree. All of those innovative front page newspaper designs from last Wednesday? Those wouldn’t be possible with proprietary code.

At the Daily Emerald, however, I was told we must first hire a publisher before we can consider any changes to our CMS. On top of that, we have a contract with College Publisher for at least the next six months (although we receive very little money from the deal so I’m not exactly sure what the Daily Emerald would lose by breaking the contract). Furthermore, the board meetings are closed. This means that I, the guy with Google Doc upon Google Doc of ideas, have to be invited to participate in the decision making process. To me, this sounds completely illogical. Instead, I have to pester the already overworked EIC with the things I’d like to do, and then have those suggestions go up the “chain of command.” It’s not a functional system for the real change which needs to happen.

Although I completely understand how busy the Daily Emerald newsroom is in producing a daily paper, it is busy work distracting the organization from what really needs to be built: a strategic vision for what student news is in the coming years. If I were in charge, I’d call an emergency board weekend retreat that anyone with expertise would be invited to. Student newspapers, just like the traditional media giants, need to completely rethink themselves because, by not innovating on the web, they’re is making themselves completely vulnerable to one potentially huge problem:

Competition from the people who get it.

6 thoughts on “Why I’m leaving

  1. Hey Dan,

    I can understand your frustrations and your points are valid. The only advice that I’d have to give you is not to do this as publicly as this. Maybe write up about how college publisher works, and how to change the structure of newspapers to better influence the readers. When you call out your former employer like this, especially as young as you are into your career, it can come back and bite you in the ass when you least expect it. Or at least it has in my experience.

    - Zac

  2. Thanks for the comment, Zac. I’d like to make sure that it’s clear I have tremendous respect for everyone I’ve worked with at the Daily Emerald. The hours are long, the pay is nearly nil, and they all have tremendous passion for what they do. It’s the passion, in fact, that gets the paper product out every day. This post is one of frustrated love, rather than hate, because I really wanted to help the Daily Emerald evolve. I’ve written before about what College Publisher lacks, but it’s not really a secret across the sector, and have even started a competitor. The real problem is that, I feel, all of the effort, passion, and capacity I’ve been building are for a large part wasted.

    Regarding how a post like this might affect my career, I completely understand what you are saying. No traditional employer wants employees bad-mouthing the company, either while they’re working or after they leave.

    I would argue, however, that employees do have the right to respectfully disagree with decisions they don’t believe are in the company’s best interests and which they feel they have greater expertise in. This type of analysis should be public knowledge, because the Daily Emerald is going to have troubles in the near future and its products are services that affect the entire community.

    Furthermore, transparency is one of my key values. I’m all for secrecy when it’s a story you’re going to break or sweet new functionality for your website, but I feel this inertia I’m identifying is of a different genre. Pragmatically, not fixing these issues now (even though they should’ve been fixed five years ago) could cause serious problems for community news in a couple of years.

  3. Oh my can I relate -

    Before I came to NYU I emailed the editor of the WSN (the school newspaper) a full proposal for getting off College Publisher and onto an open source platform like WordPress. They were intrigued, told me to develop it more and get back to them. I produced a fully functional working prototype, sent it with a memo, they offered me the job of ‘Online Editor’ but told me they wanted to implement the changes on their current platform and stick with College Publisher for the foreseeable future. I was like Erg? Even more so, as soon as I started talking about changes to their format, I just got bureaucratic mumbles.

    I quit, and a semester later, founded NYU Local: http://www.NYULocal.com

    It’s been two months but we are now getting twice as many visitors as NYU’s 36 year old print paper.

    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/nyulocal.com+nyunews.com/?metric=uv

    Take it to Oregon!

  4. Student papers need to make it a priority to think ahead into the future of media, not just to stay ahead of the game, but to fulfill the mission of student media which is to prepare students who want to work in journalism for the real world. That’s what we’re trying to do at FIU by involving reporters in every little multimedia process including audio and video so they can have that little extra item in their resume that will set them apart.

    It seems, from what I’ve heard, that the Daily Emerald is focused on printing a paper, not delivering news. Delivering news is not producing a daily paper, it’s reporting intelligently and using all available mediums to broadcast the information, including print.

    Good luck on what you set out to do next. Oh, yeah, and CoPress made it to round 2! :D

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