Arizona Daily Wildcat Covers an Arrest, Loses an Editor

The managing editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat at the University of Arizona was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct late last month during a taping of ESPN’s “College GameDay.” Student staffers at the top-notch paper suddenly faced the eternal ugh-tastic j-dilemma: how to cover one of your own.

Their decision ultimately led to some nasty in-fighting and the managing editor’s forced resignation. As the pub’s adviser put it: “There is never a dull moment on a student newspaper.”

According a recent Tucson Weekly report, the paper’s editor in chief Alex Dalenberg and staff decided the incident was newsworthy and deserved coverage, as embarrassing as it might be for the ME. In Dalenberg’s words:

After the incident at ‘College GameDay,’ I suspended [the ME] for five issues. I felt that was appropriate punishment. We also decided to run a story on the incident, because [he] was a public figure at a public event the Wildcat was covering. However, even after [he] left for the day, he insisted on dictating how the newspaper published the story about himself. [He] continued to make phone calls and send text messages, some of them laced with profanity, making specific demands about how the story be run. For example, he demanded we run an unedited personal statement regarding the arrest, and also demanded that we not run his ‘f*cking’ mug shot.

The response from the ME:

I got a tip from a colleague in the newsroom that not only was Alex not going to run my statement that he told me he would run, but he was considering putting my headshot in the paper, along with quotes taken out of context from my statement and the police report. I immediately texted Alex asking why he was doing this and (was) not running my statement.

The ME resigned from the paper that night after a fairly vicious phone call with Dalenberg, who threatened to fire him for his alleged editorial interference and general insubordination. The Weekly piece goes on to document a larger battle raging throughout the semester between Dalenberg and his second-in-command that include allegations of shoddy leadership, intra-dating favoritism, and competing factions on the paper’s editorial board scheming like “Survivor” rivals. (Although I do wish the article had cited more than just the ousted ME for some of the more nefarious allegations.)

And to think the biggest Wildcat drama this term seemed to be the 10,000 stolen papers!

My take: The incident and arrest are news. The ME himself apparently contributed to an editorial published around the time of his arrest that bashed “rabid UA football fan behavior.” He was cited for something right along those lines. The paper has to suck it up and cover its own when warranted or its credibility plummets. The published piece seems quite objective and just the right length, in my scholarly and bloggy opinion. It is sad- but I suppose inevitable- that when such a dramatic dust-up occurs between a paper’s heavyweights (literally in this case the #1 and #2), it reveals deeper fissures and leads to squabbling over past slights that do nothing but intensify everyone’s pain.

In the end, this is simply one more example of what a wild and woolly beast collegemediatopia can be.  The Wildcat adviser: “The paper moves on. In the scope of things, this is one of the most minor staff flaps ever.”

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