NORTH CAROLINA — The Friday edition of The Daily Tar Heel was nowhere to be seen on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill after the paper’s general manager decided to cancel the print edition due to an impending snowstorm, to the displeasure of the student editors.
Editor-in-Chief Paige Ladisic said General Manager Kelly Wolff made the decision by herself, citing a recent policy to not publish the print paper during inclement weather.
“I was just completely thrown off, because I had no idea what this policy was,” Ladisic said.
A number of DTH staff members took to Twitter on Thursday evening to protest the decision to not publish the print edition and express their frustration about not being included in the decision-making process.
“That, in my opinion, is the biggest mistake that has been made in a long, long time at the DTH,” tweeted Bradley Saacks, director of enterprise at the paper. “And we are not ok with this.”
In a Wednesday meeting with Wolff, Ladisic said she and another editor suggested printing only enough papers for campus distribution boxes instead of the full print run, and she offered to have the staff pick up the papers from the printing press and personally distribute them on campus. She said they also suggested raising money to pay for the printing costs.
But the conversation didn’t change Wolff’s mind, Ladisic said, and she refused all suggestions that would have allowed the paper to be printed.
“And that was frustrating,” Ladisic said. “Because we felt that if we could raise the money to print our paper, why couldn’t we print the paper?”
Wolff did not respond to the Student Press Law Center’s requests for comment. In a statement, Wolff said the DTH saw “brutal financial beatings” in 2014 and 2015 when it delivered the papers during inclement weather on days when UNC canceled class.
“Tallying the breathtaking losses after three days without classes and paid advertising last year, I decided this pointless, expensive and dangerous practice would stop,” Wolff said in the statement.
Wolff wrote that she did not stop DTH staff members from reporting news, which could still be delivered through social media and the paper’s website. Wolff criticized the staff in the statement, arguing that instead of highlighting relevant community news, the staff decided to make the DTH itself the top story.
Readers, she wrote, “deserve to get ongoing, online coverage of UNC, historic traffic jams, Tar Heel snowmen and the status of local supermarket shelves instead of trumped up, navel gazing sob stories about oppressed student journalists prevented from passing out tons of newsprint to first years who are in their dorms, snuggled up watching Netflix and reading the news on their phones.”
Despite not publishing the print edition on Friday, Ladisic said the staff still continued publishing news online to provide information to the community.
“Only the print edition took a day off. We were never told to cancel the news entirely,” she tweeted on Friday. “In the end, we are most concerned with how the decision to cancel was made — not the decision itself. We still got to do the news.”
After Wolff withheld approval to print the Friday paper, Ladisic said she called an all-staff meeting to discuss the next plan of action. She said the staff took a vote and decided to push forward, talking about raising money for printing costs and possibly finding another printer to take on the job.
“We were ready to go all out,” Ladisic said. “We were ready to raise any amount of money we needed.”
But after talking with a DTH board member over lunch on Thursday, Ladisic said she came to the conclusion that if the editors printed the paper, they would be in violation of the paper’s bylaws and could face repercussions.
“I didn’t feel threatened, but I did feel that there could be punishment if we went about what we were trying to do,” Ladisic said.
While Ladisic has sole control over the paper’s editorial content, Ladisic said the general manager has control over when to print. The DTH is financially independent from the university, and the general manager is not a government employee.
Ultimately, Ladisic said she decided to protest Wolff’s decision instead of fight it.
As for the policy not to print during inclement weather, Ladisic said she reached out to professional staff members and recent former editors, many of whom knew nothing about the policy. She said she is open to talking about the policy, but wants to make sure student voices are heard in the process.
“We usually are listened to, but that is a policy that just completely went over us,” Ladisic said, adding that she did not think the policy had been approved by the DTH Board of Directors.
“WE are the students of @dailytarheel and WE are the people who make the paper,” she tweeted on Thursday. “We should’ve had a say.”
SPLC staff writer Ryan Tarinelli can be reached by email or at (202) 974-6318.