New advocate position would oversee media

By By Michael McFall & Jeremy Thompson, The Daily Utah Chronicle and By Michael McFall & Jeremy Thompson, The Daily Utah Chronicle

By Michael McFall & Jeremy Thompson, The Daily Utah Chronicle

A proposal to create a student-media advocate to help oversee campus media outlets has created disagreements and confusion between its administrative planners and student media.

U President Michael Young created a task force in 2006 to reorganize student media. The task force’s 2008 report, chronicling its vision for the future of student media, recommended installing an assistant publisher who would act as the director of editorial and programming. This assistant publisher-editorial director was described as a faculty appointment who would manage the editorial, creative and business aspects of student media, according to the report.

More recent drafts of the policies and procedures for the new media council still install a media supervisor, but refer to the position as a “student media advocate,” who would enforce administrative policy on student media and act as liaison between them and the public.

The most recent draft of the proposal was made public April 6. Since releasing that document, Ann Darling, chairwoman of the department of communication and leader of the task force, and two other faculty authors have created a job description for the advocate, but have not released a final copy of the bylaws that include the job description or other revisions. Darling met with some student media editors, the councils that oversee them, faculty, student government and professional journalists for their input on the proposal and the advocate position.

However, Jayme Day, editor in chief of Social Dialogue, and Jonathan Spendlove, editor in chief of The Hinckley Journal of Politics8212;two publications that would be directly
affected by the proposal8212;said they know nothing about it.

Day said she would gladly work with an advocate, who she believes could help Social Dialogue improve its connection to its community. Spendlove, whose publication already has a faculty managing editor, said that faculty presence in student media could benefit their level of professionalism.

However, several editors in chief, including Day and Spendlove, and Rachel Hanson, next year’s editor in chief of The Daily Utah Chronicle, agree that student media that want to opt out of the advocate’s purview should have that choice.

The advocate creates a direct link between media and the administration, wrote six former Chronicle editors in chief, all of whom work for professional newspapers, including The Salt Lake Tribune, in a letter to the proposal planners. They said that such a connection would make it impossible for the advocate to truly advocate for the editorial independence of student journalists.

“Despite the good intentions of everyone involved, the advocate would undoubtedly erode the responsibility now held by student editors and managers,” they wrote.

Sean Halls, the KUTE station manager, said he likes the idea of the advocate as a resource he can ask to research questions such as listener demographics, but would prefer the advocate not be in a place of authority above student media. He said the advocate should be on the same level as student media.

Dustin Gardiner, editor in chief of The Chronicle, said the process of drafting bylaws for the advocate position has been backwards because the authors of the proposal came up with their vision of what the advocate’s duties would include before sitting down with student editors to ask for their input on the position.

The advocate’s place in student media, which would all be brought together under a proposed unified student media council, blurs the line between independent student media and academic departments, Gardiner said.

“They say (the advocate) won’t be able to control content, but his or her ability to enforce council policy and procedure and their sheer presence in the newsroom would have a chilling effect on journalistic freedom,” he said.

Fred Esplin, vice president for institutional advancement, said the advocate would benefit student media with “coordination of integrating print, audio, video, and other digital services…To compete successfully in the real world, University of Utah students will need to be familiar with and comfortable working in this new media environment.”

But Gardiner says that this is already happening as The Chronicle has added blogs, video and audio reports to its Web site this year.

Darling declined to comment.

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