More on the Hoya
Former Hoya Editor-in-Chief Nick Timiraos (CAS ’06), now a professional journalist, e-mails a comment on my take on the Hoya’s attempts to go independent:
The Hoya’s one-time deficit (I think it was in 2001, but you’d have to check) is actually the genesis for the independence push. Why? Two reasons: First, if The Hoya had been allowed to keep even a portion of its annual profits, the university wouldn’t have had to bail anybody out. The business would have been able to operate the way businesses normally do—saving a share of income to pay for a year in the red, brought on by, say, an advertising slump. (It’s how The Corp is able to operate even in years when it loses money). Second, that one-year loss should never have happened in the first place if the university (read: the media board) had been doing its job. The losses stemmed primarily from advertising checks that were never cashed by the ad manager (and I don’t know the story there, whether it was incompetence/negligence/a second semester senior who was lazy). The media board—the “publisher” of The Hoya—was asleep at the switch and never asked why checks weren’t being cashed. They simply didn’t notice. (So much for that tired old line that the university is some sort of “protector” of the newspaper.) Why didn’t the editors of the paper notice? I wish they had, but even that would have been difficult. Why? The university didn’t allow the newspaper to access its own bank statements (because of some red tape way that students could be allowed to log onto faculty access, the program where such accounts are kept). Yes, this sounds like a great way to run a business.
In sum, the university failed to prevent losses that never should have happened, and may have made them worse. They then used those losses as an excuse for punishing future staffs of the newspaper by denying them any use of their profits. I could go on, but I think the point is clear here—the university sees the newspaper as a “club,” when it really wants to be, and ought to be, a business.
This is a really roundabout way of saying that independence isn’t just about “cash money” as your post asserts, though I don’t dispute that it’s a key driver. It’s more simple: the staff will always care more about the newspaper than the university will.
Nick makes a good point about savings and the difficulties of accessing financial records, but I think it goes a little to far to blame the University for failing to ensure that Hoya staff did their jobs. That said, I think my argument about the Hoya‘s motivations is still pretty strong. Nick says that the Hoya wants to be a business, but I’d say that a newspaper, especially a college newspaper, ought to want to be something different than that: a public trust and a voice for students. Not that the Hoya—or the Voice, for that matter—can’t be both a public trust and a business, but independence, at least at Georgetown, doesn’t seem to affect the former goal all that much.
—Tim Fernholz, Contributing Editor