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Letter from the editor

The IDS must maintain editorial independence



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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ernie Pyle sits at his typewriter outside of Franklin Hall, home of the Media School. Andrew Williams Buy Photos

The Indiana Daily Student prides itself on its 150 years of independent journalism. We pride ourselves so much for it that it’s at the top of our website.

Editorial independence gives us the protection to write stories that matter to students, such as how the University handles sexual assault cases, the understaffing of Counseling and Psychological Services and everything in between without oversight from the University.

However, the Media School has started to make significant overreaching decisions that are threatening the independence of the IDS. This has all come to a head with this week’s forced early resignation of our newsroom adviser and Director of Student Media Ron Johnson. 

Per our IU Student Media charter, signed by former University Chancellor Ken Gros Louis in 2005, the IDS and Arbutus yearbook are student-run organizations with a director appointed by the dean of the School of Journalism. But because they are student-run, all final decisions come down to the editor-in-chief.

What students had no input on, though, was the “resignation” of Johnson, and what would come next.

For this academic year, Johnson took a 10 percent pay cut so the IDS could have a little more money. When that wasn’t enough, Johnson announced his resignation effective Jan. 1, 2018, so his salary, of which the IDS pays 75 percent, could continue funding the Daily Student’s operations.

But for Media School Dean James Shanahan, Johnson’s departure wasn’t fast enough. 

The dean asked Johnson — with no warning or time to deliberate — to move his resignation date to Dec. 1, 2017. When he did not give a satisfactory answer, Johnson said, the dean decided that Dec. 1 would be the date — a month earlier than planned.

What sounds like a simple change of plans by a month speaks volumes to students, staff and alumni.

Shanahan would not discuss the specifics of the decision, but he said it was purely financial. 

“The situation really is based out of financial consideration here,” Shanahan said in an interview with IDS editor-in-chief Jamie Zega. “We need to be able to move a little more quickly than is being moved right now.”

The IDS, like many other professional and student media outlets, is in the midst of a financial challenge. We’re not making the money we used to, and like other forms of legacy media, we’re scrambling to make up the difference.

Johnson, however, saw our financial woes coming and informed the dean of the need to cut production to twice a week during the 2015-16 school year.

The dean didn’t want to cause more concern among School of Journalism alumni in his first semester as dean and quashed that idea.

Johnson is not purely to blame for this financial situation, nor should he be punished for it.

No one is solely responsible for the economic struggle of an entire industry. 

In the coming days, Shanahan said he will be releasing the name of the interim director of student media.

The professional staff of the IDS, which includes Johnson, and student staff were not notified of the official decision to hire an interim until the dean told the editor-in-chief in an interview for this letter. 

Until an interim director has been hired, the dean said he cannot say definitively what a permanent replacement would look like. But he did say students would have some form of say. 

“I like student input,” Shanahan said. “The last thing I would want is to have a student presence that’s just symbolic or a token.”

Without consultation from students, any decision made regarding the Indiana Daily Student would be far overreaching the bounds of our freedom from administrative oversight. Along with the change in director, it is also possible the dean will revisit the now-semi-antiquated charter of the IDS, which stipulates that the dean of the now-defunct School of Journalism is to appoint a director.

That charter came from an alliance with Gros Louis, who fiercely believed in freedom of the press.

In Gros Louis’ death, though, there came a need for a new advocate for student media. If our charter is revised on terms made by administrators with students’ “best interests” in mind, we could go from a dean simply moving the director’s resignation date up a month to eventual loss of independence from the University.

That can’t happen.

It can’t happen for a number of reasons. For one, the IDS is a historically high-achieving publication in the Associated Collegiate Press, Columbia Scholastic Press Association and Hearst Writing Competition. We are a recruiting tool for the Media School, and the success of the IDS, for better or worse, makes IU, the Media School and Shanahan himself look good. 

“I’m supportive of the good and the great journalism that’s always done at IDS,” Shanahan said. “That has always been a hallmark, but what would happen if we lost that hallmark, if we don’t address these financial issues?”

But without independence — which Shanahan says he supports — we can’t bring you, our readers, the stories you need. We are not the University’s personal public relations firm, and we have to write stories that matter. 

A lot of our independence rides on “if”s. But we need allies now. We need the support from you, readers, to ensure that the IDS stays independent.

Subscribe to our emails. Share the stories you like. As always, please provide feedback or comments. 

In our charter, our mission is “to inform and enlighten the Bloomington campus community and to contribute to and enrich an atmosphere of free inquiry, expression and discussion.”

We exist as a news organization to serve you, our readers. And we will always continue to do so.

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