O'Colly content back online, but dispute continues over ties between paper, site

OKLAHOMA — Editors of The Daily O’Collegian allowedwork from the print edition to return to the newspaper’s Web site on Monday,after a dispute regarding the editor in chief’s authority over ocolly.com, theonline edition, led staffers in November to begin withholding print content fromthe Web site. But the key issues that sparked the dispute remainunresolved.

The conflict began when the O’Collegian‘s general manager, FritzWirt, allowed a student to write for ocolly.com over the objections of JennyRedden, then the O’Collegian‘s editor in chief. Redden said she had firedthe student, and she objected to Wirt, a non-student, making hiring decisionsfor the Web site of a student publication.

Redden, a former Student Press Law Center intern, asked the Oklahoma StateUniversity Board of Student Publications to formally declare that theO’Collegian editor in chief had authority over ocolly.com. When the boarddeclined to do so — citing a lack of any formal policy definingocolly.com’s relationship to the newspaper — print edition staffersstopped providing articles to the Web site.

The spring semester editorial board — led by Editor in Chief RhiannonMako — explained in a Jan. 7 editorial that they had allowedO’Collegian content to return to ocolly.com “after a committee created bythe Student Publications Board met and agreed that non-students should not beable to hire or fire students who work at the paper or Web site.”

Mako also told the SPLC that she wanted the content to return to “start thesemester out on a better note.”

Committee members and others who attended the Jan. 3 meeting said the grouphad not come to any official agreement on hiring practices, nor did they do soat their meeting this morning. But Tom Weir, the director of OSU’s journalismprogram and a committee member, said he thinks most other members agree with theeditorial’s sentiment that student publication staffers should be selected bystudent editors.

Still, the committee has struggled with the thorniest issues before it. Inparticular, there have been sometimes-heated debates over whether the newspaperand Web site are one publication, all falling under the editor in chief, orseparate entities requiring separate editors.

The committee voted unanimously this morning to recommend that thepublications board amend its constitution, explicitly adding ocolly.com to thelist of publications it oversees. Weir also has suggested that the board addprocedures to select a Web editor in the same way that the board currently hiresthe editor in chief; the committee has not acted on that proposal.

Weir said neither change necessarily implies that the O’Collegian isseparate from ocolly.com. But critics — including Mako, Redden andjournalism Professor Ray Murray, a committee member — say allowing thepublications board to directly select a web editor would effectively put thatposition on equal footing with the editor in chief, essentially setting up theO’Collegian and ocolly.com as independent entities.

Few public distinctions

Until the dispute last semester, there was little on ocolly.com to suggestit was editorially independent of The Daily O’Collegian. Since itlaunched 11 years ago, it has relied almost exclusively on content from theprint edition. The current version of the main “About Us” page on the Web sitedescribes the funding and operations of The Daily O’Collegian; itincludes no mention of ocolly.com, although there is a separate “Online History” page.

The publications board’s mission statement — updated by Wirt in the1990s — states that “it is the mission of The DailyO’Collegian, with its printed and Internet editions, to persevere asthe definitive source and distribution vehicle for campus news, information,entertainment and advertising …”

Wirt said the statement is not binding because it was never formallyadopted by the publications board — and that, in any case, he neverintended the statement’s language to imply that the paper and Web site are partof the same publication. In fact, Wirt said, ocolly.com — unlike theO’Collegian — has never been under the publications board, althoughboth outlets’ finances are overseen by The O’Collegian Publishing Company, aseparate corporation.

Wirt said the Web site is now in the early stages of expanding beyondO’Collegian content to include items such as blogs and video, as well asstories not normally covered in the print edition, such as articles from OSU’scommunications office. But he said that expansion will not interfere with printeditors’ control over their own material.

“The O’Collegian content will always be placed on the Web site, andthe print side editor will always be the final say on the O’Collegiancontent, even though it’s on the Web,” Wirt said. “We’re not taking anythingaway from the O’Colly, we’re just expanding things where theO’Colly has not been operating in.”

Student editors who already work up to 40 hours a week “don’t have the timeto invest and focus on two mediums,” Wirt said.

Redden last semester disputed that overseeing the Web site would addsignificantly to the EIC’s workload, since a web editor still could handle mostof the site’s day-to-day operations.

Murray, a journalism professor on the publications board committee, wasadamant in his view that “it’s got to be one editor … running the wholeshow.”

“That’s the way it is in the real world,” he said.

Giving the editor in chief authority over ocolly.com wouldn’t require theeditor to “micromanage everything” any more than the EIC’s oversight of othersections of the newspaper, he said.

“That’s why there’s a sports editor and a features editor and everythingdown the line,” he said.

The Web site, he said, is “an extension of the newspaper. … Without theprint engine, you wouldn’t have the Web site right now, in many forms.”

Appproaching deadline

The publications board committee will meet again the morning of Jan. 18– just hours before the publications board itself is scheduled to hold itsmonthly meeting. Committee members have been hoping to have a recommendationready for the board to act on.

Murray, although he expressed frustration with the pace of the committee’sprogress, said he was “cautiously optimistic” the group would finish in time andrecommend that the publications board recognize the newspaper and Web site asone entity.

Wirt and Weir, however, have questioned whether the board even has theauthority to dictate the Web site’s relationship with the print newsroom, nomatter how much some student editors or other committee members might want theboard to do so.

“That’s not what they’re going to get this Friday,” Wirt said. “They don’thave the authority to merge anything unless the [O’Collegian Publishing Company]agrees to it.”