Chancellor Shaw addresses the role of The D.O. on campus
In commemorating The Daily Orange’s 100th Anniversary, Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw sat down to discuss the purpose of a college newspaper and how The D.O. has fulfilled its mission.
In your view, what is the mission or purpose of any school newspaper, not just The D.O.?
Well, as is true of every newspaper, there are multiple missions, and I think it’s important to state up front that having multiple missions, of course, creates the kind of conflicts every newspaper has. Whether it’s a conflict between marketing and news, or news and editorials, whatever, it has multiple missions. But as I would see it, the first of the two major missions would be to provide information to students from students – what’s going on in their world. The second mission is to provide the students who would be journalists with opportunities to grow on the job.
How do you think The D.O. does regarding those two main missions?
I think regarding the second mission it does a very good job, because students really have an opportunity to learn, and their mistakes are relatively painless for them. It’s sort of nice at a certain age to be able to make mistakes and not have major consequences. So I think, in that respect, the second is met 100 percent.
Regarding the first, that’s a difficult mission to inform. It’s difficult on the outside, as we all know, and it’s made more difficult at a university where the expectations for publishing the newspaper is for it to go to press five days a week and have an editorial five days a week. That creates a major challenge for the leadership of the paper regardless of who it is. It probably adds to the second mission, however, because it creates kind of a crisis-like environment that they’ll have to get used to if they’re going to be practicing journalists.
But regarding the first, it creates a situation where they’re going to make mistakes. And, back to the first mission, it’ll be mistakes of accuracy, of not understanding context, that kind of thing. Notice I didn’t say that one of the missions was to be a public relations arm of the university, because I don’t believe it is. I don’t believe a newspaper is a public relations arm.
Given all that, how would you describe the current relationship between the university and The D.O.?
I would describe it as probably better than the relationship between the typical newspaper and the people that it watches most closely – the government officials or whatever. I would say it’s far better than that. You wouldn’t expect that it would be perfect but there’s the inevitable tension that students feel that they’re going to be
co-opted. But, in reality, they aren’t. But they’re very careful to avoid that and, hence, careful to avoid either the appearance or the reality of being co-opted. We went through, in the last few years, a brouhaha over cartoons which were very, very bad. I mean, it was just bad journalism. The student leadership failed to come to an understanding that they really needed to have a code of what’s acceptable in the way of cartoons and allow themselves to have supervision of professionals.
This was a process they had to go through. We, of course, encouraged them, and they were concerned all the way along with the possibility, they thought, if somehow they got someone from the university, they could be co-opted that way. They arrived at something that works for them. And that’s fine.
I would say the only other tension, which is minor, is they want the independence but there’s a certain piece of that desire that involves the university’s help. It’s always sort of a touchy subject. So it’s a touchy subject, for example, how much rent to charge them. We don’t want to give them space because if we give them space, they are, at least theoretically, beholden to the university.
We work through those things and we have a contract and an understanding. There, of course, are tensions and the tensions generally arise quite a bit when there’s something in the paper and I have to say it hasn’t been tensions arising from criticism of administrators.
It’s not that they haven’t criticized, it’s just that it’s not a big issue – It’s generally something that is of an insensitivity toward other students. Then there is a big thing about whether the university should take it over, that sort of thing. Our position is that it’s an independent newspaper so we kind of work through these things. The last time we had difficulty with cartoons, the (student) senate involved itself in the sense of talking with the students and, I think, we’re helpful in the dialog of students coming to grips with policing themselves.
Any further ways to improve those relations, either on The D.O.’s part, or the university’s actions?
I guess my reaction is that improved relations isn’t the goal. I don’t spend lot of time saying, ‘Geez, how can we improve relations?’ And they don’t spend a lot of time saying, “How can we improve relations? There’s a healthy tension that occurs always. And, to me, the question is communications. There are enough avenues for communications, whether I communicate with them or they communicate with me. That doesn’t seem to be a problem. I’ve never had a problem with editors not wanting to talk to me. They’re actually very open about their situation and I don’t think they perceive me as holding back and I don’t think they see me as trying to influence them.
You’ve sort of touched on this. The faculty advisory board, regardless of what The D.O. feels or what happened in the past, do you still think it’s a good, viable idea or it just doesn’t work in this case?
I think any way that people running a newspaper have an opportunity to check what they’re dong with someone else, someone else who’s professional (is good). So, yes, I think it has a lot to say for it. But the students have to accept it as having a lot to say for it.
We come from different generations than the students. There’s a perception probably from the students that if they have faculty advisers they’d try to dictate what they wrote about. There’s probably a perception that most of us who are administrators have that the faculty wouldn’t be dictating anything. They’d probably be somewhat helpful. We don’t know of any faculty that has that kind of agenda. It may be in some very school in the South but it certainly isn’t here.
But, the thing is, it’s got to work for them. They’ve got the structural challenges of having a newspaper every day and editorials every day and having to make the money to cover that and then the constant turnover. When I said that of the first mission that’s the most difficult, it is very often they’ll end up with underclassmen having to write stories. So the feature stories end up being outstanding and if you kind of watch those are the ones that very often win the national awards. There is an occasional expose type story. But the day-to-day reporting is a real challenge. If you have a freshman or a sophomore covering the university senate, for example, that’s a tall order.
It’s hard enough for the faculty to understand how that body works. So they’ve got those kind of challenges but that’s a part of making the second mission even richer.
Beyond the faculty advisory board, are there any other ways to strengthen the connection between The D.O. and Newhouse to make improvements to the educational opportunities that The D.O. does provide?
We could come up with a list of them but it probably doesn’t matter because it is an independent newspaper. We have suggested faculty advisers and I think the students today would tell you that there are certain things they’ve undertaken. We’ve also suggested to identify faculty who would write articles in rebuttal of something the paper had done. Those are the kinds of things that give some accountability. But let’s be honest about it. Most newspapers don’t do that either. Try and get a correction.
When you became chancellor, what did you know about The D.O. and its reputation, and has that perception changed over the years you’ve been at Syracuse?
I didn’t really know much about the newspaper when I came. But I made the assumption that it was better than average, which it is, because of our having the Newhouse school. The assumption is you have a number of serious journalists here and you have an environment for that to be created and nurtured. So I pretty much thought there would be talented, aggressive students and that’s what they are. My impression hasn’t changed and each group makes a new set of mistakes.
If you could change one thing about The D.O., what would it be?
I’d probably run it four days a week instead of five. It would give them a chance to breathe and not be in the kind of crisis-mode that putting a newspaper out everyday requires when you’re also a full-time student. We talk a lot about this with athletes. During their off-season there should be a requirement that there’s a certain time they can’t be at their sport. And the athletes are dead-set against it because they’re trying to sharpen their skills. And it’s the same thing with The Daily Orange.
In your tenure, what significant contributions do you feel The D.O. has made?
I think that it would go back to the mission. It has provided an opportunity for a lot of students to sharpen their journalism skills and do it in a relatively risk-free environment. Relatively. I would say that’s a decided contribution. There have been, over the years, stories which I think were outstanding, none of which come to mind right now. And, also, an occasional sort of expose thing that was very, very good. Those are often the marks of a good newspaper, too. That they have that kind of thing, with that kind of richness. Some of the subjects that the students undertake in feature stories, I’m sure they’re writing them for classes, but really very sophisticated.
Have you perceived any changes in the newspaper since the money stopped coming from the student fee?
I think the newspaper, again, like most other newspapers, it never has really low periods. But it does have its ups and downs depending on a variety of factors. But I don’t think the fee part of it is a factor. And, frankly, I think that’s good for them not to get the money because, probably, there are more students that get annoyed with things in the newspaper than faculty or administrators.
Talk about your perception of the media in general in this country and does The D.O. fall in line with what you would perceive as mainstream media?
Yes, it does in this sense. I think mainstream media falls under the same problem of having to meet deadline. So, therefore, very often they’re not able to get into a story and basically come out with something quickly maybe to have it first. We had just had one about somebody throwing dogs out of a van on (Interstate) 81. It ran for three days and the lady made it up.
It’s part again of having to do things quickly and I think the media suffers as the Orange does from not giving it time to do careful analysis. It may be that the public isn’t interested. I can’t say. But generally the media will focus on, if there’s a debate among political candidates, on things that are not particularly important. On how the people are responding to what they said rather than focusing on the substance of the issues. That’s a tall order.
Maybe that’s why you have editorial pages and they do a better job. But, as we know, not everybody reads that kind of thing. My sense is that the news itself, because of the nature of the deadline, makes it very difficult for careful analysis.
The Internet and the proliferation of cable and satellite television had a lot to do with it, but when did you really see a switch in the way the media covered things?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the media able to cover things analytically. People talk about the good old days but my guess is they were worse. If you go back into the 1900s with muckraking, that was just flat-out propaganda and papers today would have a hard time getting by with that. A harder time.
You’re entering your final academic year at Syracuse. Do you have priorities in terms of unfinished business and what, if anything, could The D.O. do to help you reach any of your goals?
I have probably 10 or 12 what I would call front-burner items or full-throttles, that’s what we’re calling it. I’m not ready to reveal them because I’ll talk to the university about that in September. The only way the newspaper can legitimately be helpful is report the news.
That goes back to what newspapers do. I’ve never felt you should try to use the newspaper for my own public relations. Just report it accurately. They may not like all the things. In fact, I know they won’t.
One of the issues here has to do with the way we schedule classes. A poll of students shows that students don’t want classes on Friday. Neither do the faculty. But it’s not a very efficient operation and it doesn’t really lend itself to improving the academic quality of the students or the institution. So that will be something and probably there will be editorials against it.
The D.O. is turning 100 years old, which is a significant number.
Very significant. Not all school newspapers last that long. What does turning 100 signify?
Most social institutions don’t last that long. They become irrelevant. They make various mistakes and get wiped out. Simply by its very survival it tells you something about it as an institution. You can go back 30, 40, years whether we’re talking about magazines or newspapers, the ones that are no longer here. The Chicago Daily News, the St. Louis Globe. You can go through the list.
You have one-paper towns now with towns of sufficient, large size like St. Louis. You have going through all that, and with cable television and internet, a newspaper that survives that long. And it’s done more than survive. It’s fully accountable and it’s making it, which a lot of newspapers aren’t. So you’ve really got to give credit to the institution.
Do you think The D.O. has adapted well to the new technology?
I’m not a journalist but my guess is they’ve adapted better than most of us. They come to us with no fear of technology.
Looking at the next 100 years, what do you foresee for this newspaper as it heads into the future?
I wouldn’t even attempt a prediction. As I said earlier, it’s easy for a social institution to either become irrelevant or make huge mistakes that take it down. That would be true of universities, too.
So it would be impossible to predict what any newspaper would be like. But I think what you can say because the Newhouse school and communications is a very important part of our curriculum that whatever medium of communication that newspapers once used and whatever they’re called 100 years from now, there will be students doing it. Whether they’ll be printed, what it will be, I don’t know.
But given the fact that we are strong in communications, you’ll have a ton of students aggressively going around getting and reporting the news.
Published on September 18, 2003 at 12:00 pm