I was editor-in-chief of my college’s student newspaper, The Rebel Yell at UNLV. It was a demanding, exhilarating job that prepared me for the professional positions I’ve held since. It was also something I thought was behind me, until last month, when a dispute between UNLV student government (CSUN, which does not include the Graduate & Professional Student Association) and the paper’s advisory board broke into the public eye and revealed that the latter lost the authority to appoint a student editor in 2009. That authority defaulted back to student government, but the advisory board—which I joined as an outside news professional in 2010 and sat on until late 2011—was unaware of the change, which was made at the Board of Regents level and never relayed downward. Unknowingly, the board continued naming editors-in-chief. Turns out, the last properly appointed editor-in-chief was ... me.
Mark Ciavola, the controversial 37-year-old student body president, pointed out as much to me with a comment in the requisite Facebook group created after the debate over EIC appointments took to the Internet and became big news in local journalism circles. He even offered to pay my airfare from Kentucky, where I currently live, to Las Vegas so I could manage the paper.
That’s a stupid notion for about a dozen reasons, but it points out how ridiculous this circus has become. What purpose does a student paper fulfill? Who or what should fund it? How much money does it need to operate? Who has the right to select its head editor? Is there a need to differentiate between financial and editorial independence?
Collegiate papers will always be ripe for controversy because there are no simple answers to these questions. Few school papers operate completely independently when it comes to finances and resources, and while editorial independence is a priority, oversight and advising are needed. As I see it, a set percentage of student fees (right now 8.7 percent, which makes up about half the paper’s budget) should bypass student government completely and go directly from the university to the Yell. That would eliminate conflict and allow an advisory board free of student government influence to provide oversight. That said, there are lots of ways to answer the questions plaguing UNLV, and none of them will get you very far. As with most things, the deeper you dig, the more this all seems to be about power trips and everyone fighting for the biggest slice of pie. I guess student papers and student politics aren’t that different from real-world ones.