Digital divide


They share a nickname and news stories, but a hiring dispute has called into question who controls a student newspaper's Web site





Former editor in chief Jenny Redden of Oklahoma State University’s student newspaper, The Daily O’Collegian, always thought of the newspaper and its Web counterpart, ocolly.com, as one and the same.

But in November, when general manager and Web site adviser Fritz Wirt allowed an employee that Redden had recently fired to write for the Web site over Redden’s objections, this notion was shaken.

“His justification for this move is that the Web site and the print publication are different publications,” said Redden, a former Student Press Law Center intern.

As a result of Wirt’s move, the newsroom stopped providing content to the Web site in protest. As of Nov. 9, ocolly.com has featured content from the Associated Press and other college newspapers. The newspaper is still accessible on ocolly.com, but readers must download the entire paper in a PDF file.

The paper and the Web site are owned by The O’Collegian Publishing Company, whose board oversees the finances of both.

The fissure has caused the university’s Board of Student Publications, which oversees student media at the university, to re-examine the relationship between the newspaper and its Web site.

Redden appealed to the board to establish a policy formally defining the relationship between the paper and the Web site to help resolve the dispute. But when the board failed to act, Redden pulled the newspaper content from the Web site.

While Wirt and Redden remain at loggerheads, the board has created a committee that will recommend a policy to define in the bylaws how the Web site and the newspaper would operate in relation to each other.

As of now, Wirt said there are no bylaws that define who has editorial control over the Web site, and he challenged the assumption that it should be the editor in chief.

He asserts the editor in chief should have control over all newspaper content that appears on the Web site, but content that does not appear in the newspaper — such as blogs and videos — should be the purview of the Web editor.

“The editors claim that they should have jurisdiction, editorial rights over of all material that doesn’t appear in the newspaper,” he said. “The bylaws don’t allow it.”

Until now, Wirt hired the Web editor, whose only job was to copy and paste stories from the newspaper onto the Web site, Redden said.

“All he did was load the stories we had already created,” Redden said. “He was not making editorial decisions.”

Redden said that past editors oversaw some non-newspaper content, like Web videos that accompanied print news stories.

But Wirt said a web editor would be better suited to manage exclusively Web material. The editor in chief position already requires 25 to 40 hours a week, he said, and a Web editor would have to possess skills that an editor in chief might lack.

“It seems to me that either broadcast majors, PR majors and broadcast photography majors would have more training and time to spend 25 or more hours on the Web site,” he said.

Redden said time would not be an issue.

“I don’t really think it would create so much extra work that it would make it unfeasible,” she said.

She also said that having two editors would not solve personnel conflicts like the one that arose between her and Wirt.

“That still doesn’t solve the personnel issue because if one person was fired by the newsroom they could still be rehired by the Web,” she said.

Joey Senat, an associate journalism professor at Oklahoma State, agreed with Redden and said that the two largest newspapers in the state — The Daily Oklahoman and the Tulsa World — did not operate with co-equal Web and print editors.

“I don’t know of any executive editor who would stand for having the Web site being co-equal in power,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to be the norm in the industry and it still defies a lot of logic for the set up down here.”

Senat noted that the O’Collegian’s mission statement seems to indicate that the Web site and the newspaper were intended to be seen as one publication.

The mission statement reads: “It is the mission of The Daily O’Collegian, with its printed and Internet editions, to persevere as the definitive source and distribution vehicle for campus news …”

“Up until this point, I don’t know of anyone who would have said the Web site is a separate entity,” he said. “The public face of it is that it’s the same organization … The editorial content should come from the editor of the newspaper.”

Redden said ideally there would be a Web editor who was not co-equal, but on the same level as a managing editor.

“I recognize the Web is important,” she said. “But in the end you need one boss to call the shots.”

Rhiannon Mako will succeed Redden in January and plans to continue to withhold the newspaper’s content from the Web site until the board clarifies its policy regarding hiring practices for the newspaper. She said if the board declares the Web site a seperate publication, she will explore the possibility of charging the Web site to host O’Collegian content.


reports, The Daily O'Collegian, The Daily O'Collegian, Winter 2007-08