Quinnipiac University and its student journalists have been at odds for months now, but the conflict appears to be reaching a climax. Most recently, the school reprimanded the campus's Society for Professional Journalists chapter and told its athletic department not to speak to the Quad News , an independent publication that launched in opposition to the university-supported Quinnipiac Chronicle.
What could cause such a fuss? The conflict involves a lot of overblown rhetoric and finger-pointing, but here's what we know.
Last year, editors at the Quinnipiac Chronicle became increasingly critical of the university's online story policy (which they said was too restrictive), in addition to decreasing access to university administrators and a diminishing sense of the paper's independence. Conflict ensued. The school later agreed that the paper would eventually go independent, but in the meantime, the university would appoint the editors for the fall of 2008. That appointment process did not sit well with then Chronicle editor in chief Jason Braff and much of the staff, who essentially quit the paper at the end of the past school year.
In late August, the Chronicle ex-pats launched their own online-only publication, the Quad News. Things went all right for a while, then the university threatened to shut down the campus's Society of Professional Journalists chapter allegedly because of its support for the Quad News . In a written statement to U.S. News, the university clarified that it did not object to the SPJ's vocal support of the Quad News but rather the use of school resources for a non-university-affiliated publication. In any case, local press, such as the Hartford Courant and the Yale Daily News, wrote about Quinnipiac's actions.
The university then restricted the Quad News's access to administrators and varsity coaches, staff, and athletes and issued a statement, written by spokeswoman Lynn Bushnell, calling the reports a "complete distortion of the truth."
Last year's editor and his colleagues chose not to participate in helping The Chronicle become independent. Instead, they chose to establish their own online-only paper/blog, and initially we wished them well.
However, it soon became clear that the real intentions of the students involved in this online-only paper/blog were decidedly hostile: they aggressively sought to undermine the continued existence of a University-supported newspaper for students. They actively advocated AGAINST The Chronicle, handing out fliers and leaflets encouraging students NOT to work for The Chronicle. Further, because they have no affiliation with the University, (by their own choice), they may not use campus facilities or resources to work on the online-only paper/blog. This includes space on campus and access to resources through other student organizations.
What these students have failed to disclose is that they are trying to use a University club, the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ), as a cover for their activities. The SPJ is certainly able to voice its support for any means of communication, but it may not and should not serve as a blind or a cover for non-University activities and organizations.. . . Apparently these students want to be independent of the University when it involves student organizational rules and responsibilities, but they want to be part of the University when it comes to having access to University resources and the privileges of being a recognized student organization. Unfortunately, in the real world, responsibility and playing by the rules go hand in hand with the privileges of membership.
When we discovered what the true motives of these students were, namely, to put The Chronicle out of business and to use the SPJ to gain access to University resources, we stopped having any interaction with them.
"My primary interest and Quinnipiac's primary interest is to make sure we have an official student paper for the long haul," Bushnell says.
Naturally, the Quad News responded, refuting the claims of hostility, subterfuge, and rule breaking.
The school insists that the Chronicle is run as an independent newspaper, whose content is not reviewed by school administrators (although it still appoints the publisher and editor in chief). The university stands by its policy of running all interview requests through public affairs (which is common practice for media relations) and—to its credit—also lifted its restrictions on when stories could go online, an antiquated rule that was a point of contention last year.
Student journalists at the Chronicle , meanwhile, have tried to steer clear of the line of fire. Chronicle editor in chief Stacy Kinnier says the paper is working with the university to smooth out its new policies, while also maintaining civil discourse with the Quad News. Despite the implication that the two publications share an antagonistic rapport, both Braff and Kinnier describe the relationship as one of "friendly competition." "This is not a dispute that's happening between the Quad News vs. the Chronicle, " Kinnier said.
Will the actual dispute come to a close anytime soon? Braff says he has contacted the university's public relations office to discuss the relationship but has received no response. Bushnell confirms receiving a message from Braff but wrote in an E-mail to me last week: "I see no value in meeting."
Ack. No one quite knows what the future holds, but one thing's for sure: What a hot mess.