SPJ report suggests changes to improve relations between Clark College, newspaper

WASHINGTON — After a review of recent troubles between ClarkCollege in Vancouver, Wash. and its student newspaper, The Independent,the Society of Professional Journalists sent a report to the dean, thepaper’s adviser and the editor on January 20, including suggestions toimprove relations between the school, the adviser and the newspaper staff.

The author of the report, Education Chair of the Washington Pro Chapterof the SPJ, Oren Campbell, said his involvement was sought when Frank LoMonte,executive director of the Student Press Law Center, contacted the SPJ along withthe College Media Advisers.

“We were very troubled by the hostility of the climate at ClarkCollege for autonomous and substantive student journalism,” LoMonte said.”We thought it was vital that the college hear the voice of the entirejournalism community letting the school know that its newspaper was being run ina way that violates the standards of the profession.”

While researching the situation for the SPJ, Campbell was invited to campusby the Dean of Developmental Education, English, Communications and Humanities,Ray Korpi, and the paper’s adviser, Dee Anne Finken. Last week,Campbell completed his review, which includes suggestions to help theeditor-in-chief gain autonomy, monitor staff appointments and revise some of therelationships between the paper, the adviser and the school.

The SPJ report suggests the creation of a five-member publications board,to which Clark College would delegate authority over The Independent. Thesuggested board would include two students, one faculty member, oneadministrator and one professional journalist. The student government wouldappoint one of the students and the paper’s editorial board the second.The English department chair would appoint the faculty member and the presidentwould appoint the administrator and the professional journalist.

The report also suggests: (1) the removal of the credit requirementcurrently in place to be on the newspaper staff; (2) that the editor-in-chief beable to appoint his or her own staff without consulting the adviser; (3)limiting the editor-in-chief’s term to one year and (4) that the collegeadopt the SPJ’s campus media statement.

Korpi said many of the suggestions made by the SPJ are going to be takenunder serious consideration, but he suggested media statement is similar to theone already in place at Clark. He had a meeting scheduled for Thursday withFinken and Editor-in-Chief Jordan Frasier to further discuss the report.

Some of the suggestions, Korpi said, may need to be brought to the ClarkCollege Board of Trustees or the Curriculum Committee to solve certain problemsbefore implementation. He and Finken looked at the practices of the Universityof Washington, where Campbell worked for many years as the publisher andeditorial adviser to the student newspaper, and are trying to amend them toapply to a community college.

Frasier, who began as editor-in-chief this semester, said he understandsthe contents of the report as it pertains to last year, but that those issueswere independent to that period and the problems no longer exist.

“I think it was a unique situation that I don’t see happeningcurrently,” he said.

He said the staff’s relationship with Finken is good and they findher to be supportive. He also confirmed that none of the three students againstwhom disciplinary action was taken are on the staff anymore.

Independent adviser Dee Anne Finken also confirmed that she hadreceived a copy of the report.

“We’re looking at it and seeing how we can implement therecommendations that Oren has come up with,” Finken said.

Though she does not know who will decide how to respond to suggestions madein the report, Finken said she believes “strongly and fully in a studentfree press.”

The concern that led to the report stemmed from several disputes, the mostrecent of which ended with campus disciplinary actions being taken against theformer editor-in-chief and two other staff members.In September 2009,disciplinary actions resulted from an incident during newspaper staffselections. Finken would only allow then Editor-in-Chief Audrey McDougal intothe interviews. When McDougal was unavailable and tried to send Managing EditorNick Jensen and Lead Copy Editor Amanda Martin-Tully in her place, they wereescorted from the room by campus security.Campus officials sentencedall three editors to disciplinary probation for one year. They were alsorequired to file written plans by Sept. 28, 2009 with Korpi detailing how theyplanned to work cooperatively with Finken. McDougal has since left the paper.

“We will not be satisfied until the slate has been wiped completelyclean of all record of disciplinary action against all editors, and the collegeacknowledges that it is never, under any circumstances, permissible to use thedisciplinary system to settle a workplace dispute over management of thenewsroom,” LoMonte said of the disciplinary actions.