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SUNY-Brockport editor, staff face threats
Recent conflict arose after paper questioned student government about financial accounting
February 15, 2013

NEW YORK — Five missing dollars has brought out a years-old animosity between the State University of New York at Brockport’s student newspaper and its student government, sparking two threats against members of the newspaper staff — including a suggestion that someone break the editor’s fingers.

In the last three weeks, both groups have accused the other of financial mismanagement, the paper’s business manager and editor have received threats, and the newspaper staff’s pay has been withheld. Editor-in-Chief Cassie Negley said she feels student government members have long verbalized their dislike of The Stylus but now seem to be acting on it.

“I think it’s moved from just kind of yelling at The Stylus and being mad at The Stylus to ‘let’s see if we can do something about it,’” Negley said.

Last month, Stylus staff noticed that $5.03 was missing in an accounting of money that the paper had fundraised for the Red Cross, Negley said. Stylus Business Manager Lois Caldwell and Negley then asked Student Government Business Manager Kathy Yarid, who could not explain the discrepancy.

After her discussion with Stylus staff members, Yarid called Caldwell and threatened that “there would be hell to pay” if her name appeared in the paper, Caldwell said. When contacted by the SPLC, Yarid refused to comment.

The paper did not write about Yarid’s threat until last week, after many Stylus staff members were not paid when she decided to enforce a timecard deadline that had been previously ignored. Yarid told the newspaper that she’d ignored the deadline before “because I was being agreeable. I don’t have to enforce it if I don’t want to.”

Student Government President Samantha Wheeler said the use of the deadline was not related to the ongoing situation with the newspaper, and that members of Student Government also missed the deadline. Those who missed the deadline will have their missed pay lumped into their next check, she said.

After The Stylus published its story about the situation, along with an open letter to Student Government, the group decided to form an investigative committee made up of student government officers and board members.

The committee summoned Negley testify at a meeting Monday. The questioning largely focused on $800 provided to The Stylus by the school’s Student Union and Activities board for a Welcome Week issue, Negley said.

Wheeler said the money was intended for printing costs, but was used to pay Negley and another student who put the paper together. Negley said the money has been used this way for years, and that Student Union and Activities did not stipulate its use.

Matt Barone, assistant director for Student Union and Activities, said the $800 given to The Stylus each fall is meant “to help offset the costs that they incur to produce the Welcome Week issue” but that there are no specifications for how it is used.

Separately from the Student Union and Activities money, Student Government provided funding for the printing of the issue; the money they contributed was used for printing.

The committee discussed Yarid’s threat but found no fault with her behavior, either personally or professionally, according to reports in The Stylus.

Wheeler, who is Yarid’s supervisor, said Wednesday that Yarid was speaking out of frustration and that her statement to Caldwell was made in “a private conversation, it was in no way meant to be a threat.”

The group also came up with recommendations that are intended to improve relations between the paper and student government, including mediation, Wheeler said. Negley said she was open to some of the recommendations — like improving representation for student media groups — but is opposed to the idea of mediation.

Then, on Wednesday, Negley was alerted to a Twitter post directed at the paper that said, “@brockportstylus someone please break negleys fingers and greatly improve the quality of this toilet paper you call the stylus [sic].”

The tweet came from a user named @LedoggyReptar and has since been deleted. Negley took a screenshot and reported the tweet to police as a threat. According to a campus police report, officers interviewed Brian Witmer, the student government vice president, about the account.

Witmer said he does not know what individual maintains the account, which is about a year old. He did confirm that the account impersonates his dog, Reptar.

@LedoggyReptar’s tweets are typically funny, Witmer said, but the tweet involving Negley “crossed the line.” Witmer said he yelled at “eight or nine guys,” who he thinks might be responsible for the account, after which the tweet was then deleted.

“I don’t have any wishes to harm Ms. Negley,” Witmer said.

Negley said she was “angered” by the tweet but has gotten used to people saying rude things about her online. She said she is still hopeful that the two groups can work together better.

The fate of the missing five dollars has not yet been discovered.

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.

© 2013 Student Press Law Center

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