Researching the Chronicle Controversy

Okay, I’ve been thinking a lot about the student newspaper controversy at Quinnipiac University. Here’s some other mentions about how the QU Chronicle controversy is really indicative of a larger issue of print media journalism vs. digital media journalism rights and responsibilities regarding University newspapers.  It also gives a nice summation of the events which led up to the NY Times article about the Quinnipiac Chronicle controversy.

I just google’d the ‘Quinnipiac student newspaper controversy’ and found my blog hitting at the top rank, so I figure it’s a good subject for me to do some light research into during my mid-semester break. There’s plenty of discussion of the matter from a journalistic and Free Speech/Press point of view, so I guess I can add a point of view from the New Media point of view.

Starting Point

Every research project has a starting point with the half-formed thoughts and opinions about the  subject that we may or may not have correct, so I guess that a good strategy is to list out my assumptions and background knowledge such as it is. I don’t necessarily affirm that these things are true, but in forming a research hypothesis it will help to identify my biases and assumptions up front, and then see how they change or get reinforced as the inquiry phase is undergone.

I responded to Alex Halavais’s comment on my blog posting that the essential position of strength for the college has to do with the funding of the newspaper, regarding the first amendment rights. I guess I should look up the US Supreme court case I vaguely remember reading about in the mid-90’s.  Add that to the To-Do list.

  • Look up US Supreme Court Case regarding 1st amendment rights on private college campuses. (Vague recollections  that it had to do with due process regarding dorm room search and seizure).

Another thing that becomes important is getting a complete picture of the controversy. I became aware of the issue when I made use of bathroom time on campus to review the student newspaper for the first time at the end of the semester. Of course the controversy appeared below the fold, A1.  So that’s another To-Do list item.

  • Generate a rough timeline of the stages of development regarding the controversy. This will be of use in the final report. Hm… guess I’m doing a report on this now.

Some of the issues which seem to be intertwined here are the role of ownership rights/who the publisher of the paper is, and a disparity of policy between media policies at the university level regarding print and online journalism.

The key issue for me

That seems to be the key issue for me, really. Why is it that when we look at analogous practices with long standing cultural and legal precedents in the physical world, we often find that those same considerations, precedents, and tolerances are completely removed or fail to make the transition to the digital realm for the same kinds of actions? Really… my question is why these things are -not- making the transition to the online world with the same considerations.

So, in the QU Chronicle’s case… why is it that the online version of the newspaper is not *automatically* considered to be merely an extension of the print medium? The major newspapers of the world have all adopted online formats, and they regularly make use of the flexibility that the digital medium offers over the limitations of the printed piece. Yet in many cases, it seems that there’s a separation between online and print media considerations. Why shouldn’t the editor of the QUChronicle be denied the right to utilize the online media as he sees fit? The organization, the QU Chronicle, is still the same. The overall goal is the same — communication of stories which are judged newsworthy for the audience of the paper.

From the research point of view, then, it makes sense to me that I’ll have to narrow things to look for instances of where the school newspaper is denied online access, or there is a different structure between the two. Add it to the list.

  • Find out how many cases there have been where a student newspaper in print form is denied equivalent rights in digital media.
  • Analyze any data on the reasoning and justification for it, if it’s available
  • Analyze the data found against the QU Chronicle timeline of materials and official responses to determine whether a precedent has been established elsewhere regarding this disparity of rights between print and digital.

 Larger Legal Issues

Too bad I haven’t taken the Media Law class yet. It would come in handy. Ah well. Where no prior prep is available, we’ve gotta prep ourselves.

I am constantly amazed at how much relevant experience I’ve been exposed to regarding all of these seemingly academic struggles. I’ve had the privilege of working with Rosemary Edghill, prolific writer, author, and my past mentor. She has written many books across several genres, including SciFi/Fantasy. Part of her history included writing a few articles under different pseudonyms for Dragon magazine, “back in the day”. In the mid 90’s when Wizards of the Coast, a division of Hasbro, acquired the Dungeons & Dragons franchise (including Dragon magazine),  they planned to release a compilation CD-ROM for sale to the general public which included all of the archives of prior Dragon magazines. I believe it came out in 97 or 98.

My friend Rosemary was part of a class action lawsuit on the part of the writers of those articles. All of their contracts had very specific clauses regarding compensation for reprinting rights, and WotC simply ignored those prior contracts. Illegally so. At the time, Tasini v. NY Times Co. was still in effect, so the class action lawyers ended up settling with WotC for a significantly insignificant amount of compensation for the reprints. In effect, Tasini was used as the precedent that the ultimate rights lay in the hands of the publisher, not of the authors, regardless of actual signed legal contracts. Thankfully, its precedent has since been overturned, but not before my author friend and a few hundred of her colleagues got majorly shafted (not to mention the non-writers who weren’t part of the lawsuit).

The scent of blood in the water

There’s a much larger undercurrent at work here surrounding the whole digital media cultural revolution. The QU Chronicle is a part of it, and a local representation of how communication technologies are redefining our social values.  Like a shark far, far away, I can smell the trace of something much larger, much broader hidden and at work here. It’s tantalizing, seeing the ripples of this invisible force as it stirs slowly through the global society, invisible when sought directly but leaving evidence of its passage by the turbulence it kicks up in its wake. This is a foundational shift in basic suppositions about various social communications institutions.  After having researched just a survey of the literature of contestational theory vs. government response theory for Electronic Civil Disobedience, I have to say that I truly believe we are stuck in the middle of a social revolution which potentially will reorder human life on the same magnitude as the switch from hunter/gatherer to agrarian society did.

I believe that it’s of fundamental importance to individuals, corporations, and governments alike that we begin to understand this social change rationally. What portion of it is due to digital innovations? Is it possible that something as simple as the tools by which we communicate can drastically impact the social order? Since the answer to that one seems to be yes, maybe we need to study the historical reactions of individuals and cultures to other significant impacts in communication revisions and try to figure out what portion of resistance is due to innate human resistance to change, and which portion of resistance comes from forcible realignment of social values…

Back to the Chronicle 

Yeah… this is the right field for me. But back to the to-do list… if there’s really going to be some sort of an inquiry into this by the Dean of Students then this kind of survey work could be of use above and beyond the fundamental tug-of-war between the Journalism questions and the Public Relations desires of the college.

So… let’s recap the to-do list for the research portion of things. Let’s put this into a bit more of a useful pattern for research, here.

  1. Generate QU Chronicle Controversy timeline.
  2. Look for basic Supreme Court cases where a ruling has been made recently about legal rights of students at private university campuses
  3. Look for areas where there are recent conflicts surrounding the online version of student newspapers
  4. Compare #3 with the QU timeline.
  5. Attempt to correlate everything into an interactive media-centered report to be submitted to the Dean of Students.

One month off. Way to stay current, and stretch the academic skills a bit further. I guess I’m still debating going on into PhD more than I want to admit. Damnit. I wanted to earn a paycheck in this life. Well, next lifetime, I suppose. 🙂


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