Around 8:30 this morning, Kai Davis (or @ninjakai) twittered something about the Oregon Daily Emerald being on strike. The initial image in my mind was one of people picketing in the street, and I couldn’t honestly guess as to what they would be striking about.
Then I read the editorial.
The argument is that people in the newsroom are concerned about the manner in which a new Publisher, Steve Smith, has been chosen for the paper. According to the article, the “editors felt that the Emerald cannot afford the salary Smith proposed, […] were extremely concerned that allowing Smith to work as an adjunct instructor at the journalism school while serving as publisher was an obvious conflict of interest, for multiple reasons, [and] were also concerned that Smith would be at the Emerald for only one year and if things didn’t go how he planned, if the Emerald actually ended up losing money, he would not be held accountable.”
Ryan Knutson’s comment on Steve’s initial post, though, really says it the best (emphasis mine):
And while I disagree with some of the fumbling steps taken by the board, I would only expect a strike of the staff to occur if the board tried to appoint J-School dean Tim Gleason, Dave Frohnmayer or any other administrator or permanent faculty member, but not a champion of integrity in journalism and ODE alumnus like Steve Smith. To assume Steve, who has worked in the newspaper business for decades, would suddenly drop all respect for the ethics of watchdog journalism and prevent the Emerald from criticizing the UO just because he might also teach journalism students in the classroom is naive.
When I was on the board during fall term of this year, I pushed strongly to try and involve Steve into our operations, knowing that his experience and his integrity would be a tremendous asset to the Emerald as it tries to find itself in these changing times.
In short, the Daily Emerald reached out to Steve because they thought he would be the right person to turn the news organization around. The discussion shouldn’t be about the editorial integrity of the student newsroom, but rather how the Emerald is going to completely reinvent itself. I had the opportunity to sit in on a Society of Professional Journalists session with Steve this past fall, and also had several conversations with Ryan about the paper and the future of news. I believe Steve’s own explanation of the situation, instead of the sensationalism that this has grown to be (it has now been covered in the Eugene Weekly, the Oregonian, the Chronicle of Higher Education, College Media Matters, and other publications).
Granted, I fully sympathize with the newsroom staff and their concerns that their voices weren’t being heard. I had to try and fight through the same institutional inertia this fall.
This is a critical juncture for the Daily Emerald, however, both as a newspaper and a news organization. The real dilemma isn’t the potential conflict of interest between the Publisher and editorial content of the paper, but rather how to bring the organization from the red into the black. In fact, there was argument made that the Publisher could indirectly control the voice of the paper by dictating how many pages were to be printed. To my knowledge, you just don’t have this problem if you have a website (or Twitter, or a blog, or anything digital for that matter). With declining revenues from print, what they really need is strong leadership to right the ship and figure out how to effectively “innovate” and monetize online.
I’m not entirely sure that the organization has the capacity to pull an IBM. Only time will tell.