The VanCougar newspaper on WSU’s Vancouver (WSUVA) campus is on hiatus and is working to restart production after the management for the paper resigned at the start of the fall semester.
Ben Ryan, the former VanCougar managing editor, said the Office of Student Involvement (OSI) administration fired him and Jake Kleinschmidt, the former VanCougar editor-in-chief, but gave them the opportunity to resign. The meeting included Michelle McIlvoy, the OSI manager, Brenda Alling, the VanCougar adviser, and Casey Payseno, the OSI adviser, Kleinschmidt and Ryan.
“Jake Kleinschmidt and I were forced to resign under weak reasoning, and we were lied to and told that we couldn't talk about anything that had transpired,” Ryan said. “Then we were marched to our office like prisoners, whereupon we wrote our resignation letters.”
McIlvoy said Ryan and Kleinschmidt officially resigned. She said they discussed many issues with the VanCougar, including the performance of the paper and staff, but the decision to resign came from Ryan and Kleinschmidt.
“Those allegations are really unfortunate,” McIlvoy said. “I have a lot of different ways as a manger and adviser to go about those issues but cannot force somebody to resign.”
The WSUVA Student Media Board (SMB), a student organization, manages the student publications, including the VanCougar, according to the SMB statement of policies and bylaws. The SMB can dismiss or hire the VanCougar editor-in-chief, but OSI staff, like McIlvoy, cannot.
The paper is student run, independent and paid for with Service and Activities Fees, Alling said.
Ryan said McIlvoy, Payseno and Alling had a list of grievances relating to their dissatisfaction of the paper, including the picture quality and a missed advertisement. He said the paper did not always produce perfection, but the fault did not fall upon just him and Kleinschimdt.
He said McIlvoy more than once talked with Kleinschmidt about his eligibility to hold the editor-in-chief position. Neither McIlvoy nor Kleinschmidt would comment on Kleinschmidt’s eligibility.
“It's not as open and shut as Michelle would lead you to believe,” Ryan said. “During the spring semester of the 2011 school year, a similar meeting was held to discuss Jake’s eligibility, but Michelle let it slide. So what changed? I think there are greater things at work here, and that Jake and I both were victims of the political machine.”
McIlvoy said a meeting about Kleinschmidt’s eligibility did not occur, and she feels there is some lack of truth to Ryan’s statements. She said she is not sure why this situation might be construed as negative, but maybe there are regrets regarding unfinished plans and tenure with the paper.
“I’m a tough adviser, and I have high expectations and a high level of support,” McIlvoy said. “In this situation, the students may not have appreciated the high standards that were being expected of them.”
Alling said without the resources that the Pullman campus student media have, they needed to put the paper on hiatus to regroup. She said the VanCougar’s situation is completely different than a situation in Pullman because they don’t have the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.
“We have a lot of well-meaning students but without a lot of training,” Alling said. “The break is a real opportunity to take this paper to the next level.”
Alling said Brett Oppegaard, an associate professor of media communication at WSUVA, would make a great adviser, but no formal consideration has happened. She advises the paper as of last summer.
Oppegaard said he is helping the partnership between the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication in Pullman and the Creative Media Digital Culture Program (CMDC) at WSUVA. He said he hopes WSUVA will soon offer a formal minor in media communication.
Lawrence E. Pintak, the dean of the Murrow College, said Oppegaard teaches the first of several Murrow courses appearing at WSUVA. He said the courses will prepare the university for a journalism minor that they hope to receive senate approval for.
“The Murrow College’s only presence is through the classes that they are offering right now,” Pintak said.
The Murrow College is not involved with the VanCougar, Pintak said. The publication’s organization is up to the staff and whatever advisers they have, and the Murrow College would consider assisting their operation in the future if they wanted, he said.
McIlvoy and Ryan said they believe the recent shift to hourly pay at WSUVA put stress on a lot of people and situations, including the staff and function of the VanCougar. McIlvoy said they had to cut back on staff positions on the paper, and it became difficult to organize a quality paper and budget.
“That was the beginning of the end,” Ryan said. “Our employees did not have enough time to do their work.”
When the paper shut down, a rumor started that plagiarism was part of the reason. Alling said that statement is not true.
“Plagiarism did not have anything to do with it,” Alling said. “We are putting pressure on our leadership to produce a higher-quality paper.”
Kleinschmidt said he did not hear anything about plagiarism while working on the paper. He said he would like to focus on finishing up school and graduating.
“I’m really looking forward to taking the next big step,” Kleinschmidt said.
When he and Kleinschmidt took over the paper in fall 2010, Ryan said they set up a two-year plan to restructure and then improve the content of the paper. He said he felt a sense of grief after leaving the paper because of the work he had put into it, but he also felt the work had become unnecessarily stressful.
“I think that if we had been given the opportunity to make the changes, we would have increased our readership even more,” Ryan said. “The way we were treated after the fact, I felt like we were these bank robbers in the ‘30s, marched up to our offices.”
Ryan said he still has a lot of loyalty for the VanCougar. He plans to move forward but wants to protect the next staff from being affected by the administrative powers and stop any future incidents like his and Kleinschmidt’s.
“I want the next staff to make the paper the best it can be,” Ryan said. “I feel I learned that sometimes if you believe that you need to stand up and fight something, do. I hope Michelle does the right thing from here on out, but don’t think she will.”
McIlvoy said it is unfortunate for the campus to be without their paper.
“Our campus is growing, we look forward to the newspaper growing with it,” McIlvoy said. “The news media changes that are changing with the times need to be addressed, and it will be a learning opportunity for our students.”
The SMB chose senior humanities major Cyndie Meyer as the new editor-in-chief on Sept. 30. Meyer said the VanCougar will not start until she hires staff and organizes the process. She said the production frequency this semester is not set, but starting in January, they will print bi-weekly.