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The Quad: Looking into the editor-in-chief selection process across UC student newspapers

(Nico Hy/Daily Bruin)

By Andrew Warner

May 11, 2020 8:41 p.m.

Picking a newspaper’s editor in chief is not always a walk in the park.

Last year, The Quad published a story detailing how the Daily Bruin selects its EIC every spring – we explained how things have typically gone in the past, with the paper’s staff voting on and endorsing one applicant and the UCLA Communications Board appointing the endorsed applicant into the role.

Just a few days after the story was published, however, the Communications Board broke its streak of selecting the internally endorsed staff member and went with another applicant. Long story short, 44 Daily Bruin staffers called for a strike and shortly thereafter began working with the Communications Board to see how the paper could reform the EIC selection process so that it would have more transparency.

This year, staff at UC Davis’ student newspaper, The California Aggie, have found themselves in a similar situation, questioning the productivity of the process they currently have in place. With EIC-related dissension at two sister schools in such a short span of time, it’s worthwhile to explore how other University of California student newspapers select their respective EICs – The Quad spoke with five EICs at UC student newspapers to see what selection processes work well and how the system can be improved.

[Related: Press Pass: The grueling process behind Daily Bruin’s yearly contest for editor-in-chief]

At The Aggie, unlike at other UC publications, the UC Davis Campus Media Board conducts all EIC selection procedures, said Kaelyn Tuermer-Lee, the paper’s current EIC, in an emailed statement. The board is supposed to consist of a nonvoting chair, ex-officio members and seven voting members, five of whom are supposed to be undergraduate students – this year, Tuermer-Lee said no student members have been present at board meetings since the fall.

According to the Media Board’s guidelines, those who are interested in applying must submit an application consisting of a resume, written answers to various questions and supplemental materials such as writing samples by March 15. They can also submit up to three letters of recommendation directly to the Media Board.

There is no internal staff endorsement or election process at The Aggie – the Media Board is the only entity with the power to select an EIC.

After submitting their applications, the Media Board conducts interviews with the applicants and chooses an editor – this is where things have gotten hairy this year. Media Board guidelines state that at least four voting members of the board must be present in order to reach quorum. This year, during the interview process, only two members were available to conduct interviews – Tuermer-Lee said the board claimed this was because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there has not been a consistent student voting member presence throughout the school year.

The Aggie’s editorial board and this year’s applicants for the position published an editorial April 14, demanding the board refrain from moving forward with the interview process until, at the very least, the minimum number of voting members for quorum could attend.

“We are writing to let you know that all four prospective applicants for The California Aggie’s 2020–21 editor-in-chief (EIC) are refusing an interview for the position, as any selection made by Media Board would be in violation of its own bylaws,” the editorial read.

(Courtesy of The California Aggie)
(Courtesy of The California Aggie)

In addition, the editorial also requested the board work with the paper’s staff to reform the process such that an EIC be selected internally, by the staff members of the paper, rather than board members who are not necessarily involved with the day-to-day affairs of the paper.

In her emailed statement, Tuermer-Lee said ideally, the Media Board would act more as an advisory body for the student paper, adding that The Aggie’s autonomy is especially important to maintaining a free press that is not directly tied to the school administration.

“I just (want) to … stress the point that students involved in and with direct knowledge of The Aggie are best equipped to choose its next student leader,” Tuermer-Lee said.

The board was unable to meet quorum until Wednesday, when interviews with the applicants finally began after three new student members joined the board.

Organizations like the Media Board and the UCLA Communications Board have an interesting history within the UC system: In July 1970, the UC Regents announced they were by and large displeased with the state of the newspapers on its campuses.

“The Regents deplore the frequent use of campus student newspapers as instruments of socio-political advocacy and for the dissemination of lewd and obscene articles and photographs,” reads a UC Regents resolution that was approved at the July 1970 meeting.

The solution? The Regents mandated that each university’s chancellor create a body governing any student newspapers that received funding or support from the University (it should be noted that UCLA was ahead of the curve in this regard – the Communications Board has been around in some form or another since 1919.)

[From the archives: Journalism faces budget cuts]

This resolution essentially gave student newspapers two options: follow the governance of the school, or run as an entity completely independent of the school.

Of course, other newspapers at UC schools have largely managed to forego the issues staffers at The Bruin and The Aggie have faced in recent years. Sarah Harris, the EIC for the 2020-2021 school year at UC Berkeley’s The Daily Californian, said The Daily Californian is independent of any administrative branches at UC Berkeley.

Those interested in becoming EIC at The Daily Californian undergo a process somewhat similar to that of EIC applicants at the Daily Bruin, minus any oversight from the school’s administrative bodies.

Those interested in applying draft up platforms focusing on how they plan to lead the paper; those platforms are then sent out to the paper’s staff before an election forum where staff can ask questions and learn more about an applicant’s ideas. Following the forum, staff members vote on a candidate via a Google form – even if an applicant runs unopposed, they still must receive a majority vote in order to become the paper’s EIC.

“It’s a completely internal process,” Harris said. “Nobody outside The Daily Cal has a say in who’s chosen as EIC.”

Ironically, The Daily Californian’s independence came not long after the UC Regents’ 1970 resolution to regulate student media was approved. In 1971, after the paper published an unexpectedly controversial editorial, The Daily Californian’s Publisher’s Board fired three editors who voted to run the editorial, according to a 2011 The Daily Californian article. In response, the Daily Californian’s staff opted to split off from the school and become an independent, student-run entity, even moving its office off-campus.

This autonomy seems to be a major factor in allowing student newspapers at other UCs to select an EIC without any major roadblocks along the way. Harper Lambert, the 2020-2021 EIC at UC Santa Barbara’s student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, said she can’t imagine a situation like the one at The Aggie occurring at a truly independent, student-run newspaper.

“The emphasis (at the Nexus) is really on having every editor … feel like you have a say in who’s going to be representing you and be leading you for the next year,” Lambert said. “It makes a big difference in the morale of the staff, because I can imagine it would be extremely frustrating knowing that you’re going to do what somebody says next year and you have no influence in determining that role.”

At the Nexus, EIC applications come out toward the end of winter quarter, in March. Every year, the current EIC and their managing editor draft up questions for a written application, which Lambert said gives the process some degree of flexibility with regard to how it’s formatted, as questions can change from year to year. After a Q&A session with the applicants, the paper’s editors vote to elect an applicant.

Likewise, two campus newspapers at UC San Diego – The Guardian and The Triton – are also independently run, with entirely internal processes for selecting their respective EICs. This independence is relatively new – in 2015, the A.S. Council at UCSD voted to cut funding for student media organizations and since then, The Guardian has been free from university oversight. The Triton was founded in 2015, shortly before the defunding, and is also entirely independent and student-run.

Daisy Scott, the outgoing EIC at The Guardian said in an emailed statement the EIC selection process begins in the spring quarter, when applicants submit a resume, cover letter and a written statement of their platforms regarding their goals for the paper. Then, an interview process begins, which all staff members are welcome to attend and ask questions during. Following this interview process – which is recorded or transcribed for those who can’t attend – the entire staff takes a vote and an EIC is officially selected.

[ICYMI: Assistant Enterprise Editor Melissa Morris appointed as 2020-2021 editor in chief]

At The Triton, the EIC selection process begins around midway through winter quarter, when the paper releases its applications for EIC and managing editor to the staff. Around week eight, Ella Chen, the paper’s current EIC, said the paper’s editorial board conducts interviews with the candidates and then votes to select both positions – this differs slightly from other newspapers, which often allow for the incoming EIC to select the managing editor themselves. Like at the Nexus, contributing writers don’t have a say in the voting process.

Beyond their autonomy, what the papers at UC Berkeley, UCSB and UCSD have in common is the fact that they haven’t had any major controversies regarding the EIC selection process in their recent histories. While entities like UC Davis’ Campus Media Board and the UCLA Communications Board can provide valuable advice – and in UCLA’s case at least, help manage the paper’s budget responsibly – giving an external body the power to select an EIC has the potential to underscore dissonance between the interests of the paper’s staff and the administration.

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Andrew Warner | Daily Bruin senior staff
Andrew Warner is a Daily Bruin senior staff reporter. Warner was the editor of The Quad during the 2018-2019 school year and an assistant editor for the Music | Arts beat of Arts during the 2017-2018 school year. Before that, he was an Arts reporter during the 2016-2017 school year.
Andrew Warner is a Daily Bruin senior staff reporter. Warner was the editor of The Quad during the 2018-2019 school year and an assistant editor for the Music | Arts beat of Arts during the 2017-2018 school year. Before that, he was an Arts reporter during the 2016-2017 school year.
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