Academic reorganization threatens Printz newsroom

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Promises of news-writing experience, management and access to technology and space led the current Student Printz employees to apply to work for the student-run newspaper. However, those resources could be taken depending on the School of Communication space committee’s proposal to the faculty.

Because of the academic reorganization that went into effect July 1, Southern Miss’ colleges and the departments within them have been combined. The Department of Mass Communication and Journalism combined with the Department of Communication Studies to create the School of Communication within the College of Arts and Sciences.

Most communication studies faculty currently have offices in the Liberal Arts Building; however, under administration guidance, the space committee is considering moving some of those faculty to College Hall, specifically in the Student Printz newsroom located on the third floor.

The space committee is comprised of seven members which includes mass communication and journalism professors as well as communication studies professors.

In the newsroom, 42 Printz staff members and 20 WUSM employees share the common area. The Printz graphic designers and photographers use the design suite with six Mac desktops. The Student Printz executive editor and advisor have their own offices to sell ads and handle personnel issues and the Printz webmaster and WUSM producer share one office.

Executive Editor Andrew Abadie said he fears that faculty could attempt to censor the staff if faculty offices surrounded the newsroom common area.

Abadie said he discovered that the committee was considering taking the newsroom in late August and scheduled a meeting with Acting Director of the School of Communication Casey Maugh Funderburk, Ph.D.  

Abadie attempted to meet with the members of the space committee but was denied access to the closed meetings. Instead, the committee allowed him to submit a letter on behalf of the entire editorial staff.

Managing editor and senior English and biology major Ashley Hobson said she was disappointed by the committee not allowing the Printz staff to speak at a committee meeting.

“To exclude students from being present in some physical form to defend their use of a student-centered space like the newsroom is to essentially remove them from the conversation,” Hobson said.

“While it’s fair to say there are faculty and staff who keep the students best interest in mind, it’s another thing when those students are sitting across the table from you begging to keep the space they have or be given an equal space elsewhere. Words on paper are good enough, but being able to read the emotions of a conversation and answer questions as they arise is a completely different thing.”

Southern Miss graduate and former editor Kathryn Miller said, “The newspaper staff, just like any other media or organization on campus, deserves a space to work together in an environment with respected privacy. The newspaper staff encompass the student body after all, and apart from the news adviser, the staff should have a space separate from faculty to work together collaboratively.”

SGA President and senior communications major McKenna Stone said she would work with the Printz staff and the School of Communication faculty about the issue.

“As SGA President, it is my duty to advocate for student needs, concerns, and academic enhancements while also serving as a liaison between the student body and university administration,” Stone said. “I believe it is within my duties to investigate concerns surrounding the Student Media Center. In order to advocate for students who utilize the Center for academic purposes, I will begin this investigation by gathering information from all parties involved. I am personally committed to investing in this situation.”

Student Printz alumni have shown their support by sending various emails to Funderburk in support of the Student Printz keeping its office space.

Southern Miss graduate Cam Bonelli and current Richfield Community Editor at Sun Newspapers in Minneapolis were among the editors Abadie contacted.

During Bonelli’s time as executive editor during the 2016-2017 school year, Bonelli said she used the newsroom at least four to five times during the week for several hours at a time.  

“Being in a newsroom provides valuable experience that cannot be obtained in a classroom. The Printz gave me an opportunity to learn so many of the skills I use every day on the job,” Bonelli said. “Having hands-on experience in a newsroom, interaction with peers, the opportunity to learn from mistakes and the ability to use software that is basic knowledge for a position at a professional newspaper was the best way for me to be prepared for my current position.”

Southern Miss graduate and former editor Mary Margaret Halford sent a letter to Funderburk highlighting the importance the executive editor have an office.

“On a Wednesday night in 2012 while working on the next day’s paper, there was a knock at my office door,” Halford said. “A sophomore transfer student stood there looking incredibly uncomfortable and asked to speak with me in private, so I closed the door and sat down. The girl then proceeded to tell me about how she was sexually assaulted on campus, and she was ready to share her story.

While Halford did say that every office meeting is not related to abuse, she added that some of them are about private personnel issues and “heated debates” about publishing a story.  

After hearing that the newsroom might be occupied by faculty, Bonelli said prospective students could lose interest in coming to Southern Miss.

“I felt that the school does not understand that taking away the newsroom is a severe detriment to its current journalism program,” Bonelli said.  “If the school wants to see its newspaper continue to prosper, it should allow the Student Media Center to be occupied and used by students. Taking away this space will push the journalism program behind its competing schools. Ole Miss has a highly successful and competitive student newspaper and program to which prospective students will take notice of when considering where to go for their undergraduate degree.”

The School of Communication faculty will vote on the space committee’s proposal, and Funderburk will approve or deny it.  

Mass communication and journalism professor Christopher Campbell, Ph.D., said he is unsure if the space committee will propose to use the newsroom for faculty offices or if the School of Communication would support that idea, but that if they did, the decision would seem “odd.”

Campbell said he would like for the staff offices on the third floor to be refilled by new mass communication and journalism staff.

“We originally had offices elsewhere on the third floor for the professional staff who oversaw the work of students in the Student Media Center,” Campbell said.  “Unfortunately, we lost most of those positions, apparently because of tight budgets. I’d like to see those positions get refilled now that the budget crisis seems to be over, so that we could increase activities in the Student Media Center and bolster the opportunities for our students.”

If the proposal is approved, it is unclear where the School of Communication will relocate the staff. Abadie said he is afraid the committee will not suggest a new location.

In a letter to the committee from the Student Printz editorial staff, the editors said, “Some believe that the student newspaper can simply be done on laptops. However, no reputable newspaper fails to offer employees a space to conduct work and assemble its product at the highest quality possible.”

Abadie said the committee should consider renovating the College Hall basement, which is currently flooded and has mold, or pursue the opportunity of moving the newspaper’s newsroom at either a different location or off-campus location.  

After weeks of alumni feedback, although not directly related to this reason, Funderburk met with Abadie on Oct. 15 to explain that the newsroom is now considered to be a priority space. An effort is currently being made to keep the spaces for student use. She did note that one of the offices could be used for a faculty member and that the faculty vote could still change the spaces’ use.

Originally the vote was scheduled for Friday, Oct. 19 but will take place on Nov. 2 in order to give the faculty time to properly review any proposal made. The vote itself has now been rescheduled at least twice. Any decision made will go into immediate effect in December.

Before the space committee’s vote, The School of Communication will be celebrating the Student Printz’s 100-year anniversary Thursday, Oct. 18. Previous Printz editors and staff members will return to Southern Miss’ campus to view Printz memorabilia, watch a panel discussion and take tours of College Hall.