Student Press Trend: Editor Resignations; Is This a Good Thing?

Over the past two months, three top editors have resigned from the student news outlets they helped run following high-profile screw-ups.

In late January, Devon Edwards resigned as managing editor of Onward State at Penn State University after sending out the mistaken tweet read and spread ’round the web about the death of Joe Paterno.  Late last month, Adam B. Sullivan suddenly quit his post as editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan following a front-page debacle in which mugshot photos of criminal meth users and dealers were aligned with a story on hospitalized meth burn victims.  And most recently, earlier this week, Chelsea Diana was forced to resign as editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press at Boston University following the publication of a callous, poorly-received April Fools’ issue featuring drug use, sexual assault, and Disney characters.

The editors are to be commended for the classy manner in which they stepped down, in each case accepting the blunder’s existence and seriousness and not launching any parting potshots.  But are their outlets truly better off without them?  Sullivan directed the DI on a true gung-ho journalism adventure that included innovative coverage of the school’s Dance Marathon from every conceivable angle.  Edwards helped lead OS from infancy to national respect (of course, a respect that hung it when it reported on Paterno).  Diana oversaw a fantastic DFP this past year that among other achievements provided top-notch coverage of the infamous sexual assault case involving two BU hockey players.

To help maintain reader trust in a publication after a major mistake, a change at the masthead’s top has long been the standard crisis communication response.  It is a visible sign that an outlet is taking a snafu and related public disgust seriously.  But is this type of symbolic fix a good thing at the student press level?  It’s a learning experience for the editors, to be sure, but at what cost?

The student press, like its professional counterpart, makes mistakes.  The difference: Mistakes are not only offshoots of student journalism, they are expectations.  From an adviser’s and professor’s perspective, in a certain context, they are even a blessing.  They at times provide the greatest avenue through which to teach students about quality journalism and guide them toward becoming better reporters and editors.  In that spirit, the college media climate should almost always favor education, not expulsion.  Is it really in anyone’s best interests to kick out the student staffers so passionate about learning the craft that they have taken on huge leadership roles?

There are many, many reasons justifying a student editor’s termination or resignation.  I’m just not sure a single honest content screw-up without any malicious intent, however viral it might go nowadays, is one of them.

My best to Devon, Adam, and Chelsea.

Update: At least regarding Chelsea’s case, the Boston Globe agrees with me

5 Responses to “Student Press Trend: Editor Resignations; Is This a Good Thing?”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] rash of collegiate editors and writers being fired, resigning or being removed from their position. This post from College Media Matters goes over three firings alone this semester, including a cartoonist for […]

  2. […] Student Press Trend: Editor Resignations; Is This a Good Thing? […]