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Ex-SR Editor’s Plan Leads To Strike

In November, the Emerald recruited Steven A. Smith, Emerald alum and former editor in chief of The Spokesman Review in Spokane, Wash., to work as a consultant and draft a strategic plan for the future of the Emerald. In Smith’s strategic plan, he recommended hiring a publisher with a five-year contract to replace the current general manager position. Smith wrote a loose job description for the publisher position, including its responsibilities. As described in Smith’s proposal, the publisher would have supervisory control over the student editor, which the general manager does not have. This poses an obvious threat to student control and editorial independence that is key to the service we provide/Ashley Chase & Allie Grasgree, Editor in chief & managing editor of University of Oregon Daily Emerald. More here.

Question: Should student newspapers at colleges and universities be autonomous?

Oregon student newspaper goes on strike at hiring of former S-R editor Steve Smith as publisher…

(This has nothing to do with politics or the legislature, but Smith is a well-known civic figure in Spokane. I suspect this will be of interest.)

Wow.

The staff of the University of Oregon’s student newspaper, the Daily Emerald, went on strike four hours ago at the prospect of a new organizational structure headed by Steve Smith, who until a few months ago was the top editor of the Spokesman-Review. Smith this morning said he was stunned at the fracas, and has withdrawn his acceptance of the newspaper’s offer to be publisher.

Shortly after leaving the Spokesman, Smith was recruited as a consultant to draft a plan for the financially-struggling daily. His report recommended hiring a publisher, who would supervise the paper’s student editor. According to this lengthy article in the paper, the paper’s board initially planned a nationwide search, then decided to take up Smith on his offer to work for a year, at $80,000, as publisher. Smith also planned to teach at the school.

The paper’s editors protested, saying the Emerald can’t afford that salary, and they didn’t want the independent paper answering to Smith at work or in class. They said Smith may be the best person for the job, but that there should be national search.

The board offered Smith the job, which he accepted.

From the paper’s student editor, Ashley Chase:

The board chose to hire a candidate without performing even the most basic hiring protocol; there was no job interview, no references were contacted and, most appalling of all considering the Emerald’s financial state, there was no negotiation of the candidate’s salary proposal. The most powerful position this organization has seen in its 109 years of publication is set to be filled by a person who wrote his own contract and job description, which takes occupational liberties that are far out of line with the Emerald’s guiding values and ethics.

The paper’s staff went on strike, and are publishing an alternative publication online here.

Smith, in a response posted on his personal blog this morning, says that he supported a national search and that “my career path, such as it is, doesn’t include a long-term stay at the Emerald.” He said the news staff’s objections took him totally by surprise last night. Wrote Smith:

No one from the Emerald news staff took the time to talk to me. I was not called for comment by the editors before they wrote their story for this morning’s paper.

He said he thought he had a good relationship with Chase, the editor, and that his only goal was to help the paper through it’s financial crisis. Smith continues:

But I have been too close for too long with the Emerald and its fine student journalists to go to war with them now over this. So I withdrew from the fray this morning. It’s best the board and the students take a deep breath, then sit down and try to figure out how to move forward. I will continue to offer whatever support is considered appropriate by all involved.