Committee formed for freedom of student media

By Ryan Shelton, News Editor

Communication professors are coming together to form a committee and write bylaws that would revamp student media–an endeavor that began when the U Board of Trustees received recommendations from the University of Utah Media Education Task Force earlier in the summer to overhaul to the U’s student media production.

The task force, which was assembled in 2006 at the request of U President Michael Young, recommended in a report that the U’s broadcast and publications councils be combined to form the University Student Media Council.

As professional media outlets worldwide begin consolidating individual productions into diversified hybrids, often combining visual, broadcast and text-based elements, the task force members hoped to promote similar practices on campus.

U professor and chair of the student broadcast council, Robert Avery, praised the recommendations and pledged his support to the proposed USMC.

“I think it’s a very positive approach,” Avery said. “It has the potential to really strengthen media at the U…I’m pleased to have the opportunity to help draft the new bylaws.”

Under the current system, both the publications and broadcast councils disburse student fees to all student publications and broadcasts at the U, including The Daily Utah Chronicle and KUTE, the U’s student-run radio station. The councils act like traditional publishers, although they are not allowed to exercise any editorial control and are appointed by and solely responsible to the Board of Trustees.

Communication Department Chair, Ann Darling, who also chairs the task force, said she hopes to have the USMC in place by fall 2009.

Darling, along with Avery and Publications Council Vice, Chair Glen Feighery, and the seven other members of the task force are working to draft the USMC’s bylaws, which would require approval from the Board of Trustees before the USMC could be put in place.

Darling said the Board of Trustees also asked the task force to make recommendations on who would fill several new positions proposed in the report.

Feighery declined to comment on the status of the USMC, deferring to Darling, who said both he and Avery support the change.

“The merger of the two councils will allow us to expand media production opportunities for students, while still allowing for everyone to retain their independence and autonomy,” Darling said.

Dustin Gardiner, editor in chief of The Chronicle, expressed skepticism of some of the task force’s recommendations.

“Over all, I think it’s a promising vision,” Gardiner said. “However, I am concerned about the role that the assistant publisher will play. The duties of this position aren’t clearly stated in the report, but I can see this figure becoming a potential threat to The Chronicle’s independence. It all depends on how the new bylaws are written.”

Sheena McFarland, a government reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune and former editor in chief at The Chronicle, shared Gardiner’s concern, stressing the educational value of journalistic freedom.

“It’s an interesting idea,” McFarland said. “I can understand their desire to consolidate, but some of the positions are worrisome because the minute you have administrator oversight, you lose the freedom of press that The Chronicle and other student publications have always enjoyed.”

Darling said the roles of the assistant publisher would primarily be advisory.

The task force recommended that the USMC be composed of a board with 11 voting members including five students, three faculty members, two media professionals and one former student.

One of the faculty members would serve as chair of the USMC.

The USMC would also comprise four non-voting members: the vice president for student affairs and the newly created positions of the assistant publisher for media services, director of business services and assistant manager for creative services.

Jim Fisher, a communication professor who has advised The Chronicle for the past six years, said the creation of the USMC could provide U students with a greater opportunity to work in a real-world media setting, but noted that The Chronicle has been operating under a contemporary model for several years.

“All media, especially information media, is going to converge,” Fisher said. “It’s important that students figure that out and get a chance to practice it.”

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