UPDATE: On Monday, March 4, President Gann responded to our letter. Her response is below the letter. PDF copies of both the letter and Gann’s response are available below the letters’ texts.
This letter has been simultaneously published by the Claremont Port Side, Forum, Independent, and Student Life. The editors of those four publications drafted the letter and delivered it to President Gann’s office on March 1.
An Open Letter to President Gann
March 1, 2013
Dear President Pamela Gann,
Claremont McKenna College recently instituted a new student media policy requiring student journalists interested in contacting administrators to do so strictly through the Office of Public Affairs. The OPA may then facilitate an interview for the student, but can choose instead to provide the requested information or a statement on the given issue, which denies the reporter the opportunity to speak directly to administrators who are most familiar with each topic.
We urge you to reconsider this policy because it undermines our ability to provide timely coverage of the issues that students care about. In hindering student journalists’ access to CMC administrators, this approach to student media decreases the transparency of administrative actions and harms the relationship between the CMC administration and the students whom it is meant to serve.
Max Benavidez, Associate Vice President for Public Affairs, and Alissa Stedman, Director of Media Relations, outlined and discussed this policy in a February 4th meeting with editors from the Forum, Claremont Independent, and Claremont Port Side. They said that this policy is meant to put student journalists in contact with appropriate sources and to provide them with accurate information. External news media already operate this way, making this new policy a formalization of such practice for all media.
This policy makes sense for external media, and we appreciate the respect implied by treating our publications the same way. Yet campus publications should be treated differently. Unlike external media, we are familiar with CMC and its staff, and we care about stories that will never be national news. And in our attempts to adhere to the new policy by contacting administrators through the OPA, we have found OPA staff to be slow in responding to our requests – if they respond at all. We have missed deadlines because of this policy, preventing us from keeping students informed about the issues that affect them.
We understand the administration’s desire to ensure that information published about CMC is consistent and accurate, particularly in the wake of the SAT scandal. Yet the SAT scandal demonstrated the need for more accountability, not less. Student media provide necessary external oversight by informing CMC students and the Claremont community about what is happening at CMC. Yet to do so, they must have access to administrators who are free to speak openly and candidly. The interactions between our writers and CMC administrators should not be mediated by an office explicitly devoted to public relations.
CMC prides itself on its close-knit community, and rightfully so. Yet when it comes to fostering an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, this policy is a step in the wrong direction. Trust administrators to accurately represent CMC and its policies, and to carefully explain their own perspectives on a given issue. And trust our publications to ethically communicate those perspectives to a community of students that deserves access to information about CMC’s policies and the people who shape them.
Caroline Nyce, Editor-in-Chief, Forum
Marina Giloi, Editor-in-Chief, Claremont Independent
Tim Reynolds, Editor-in-Chief, Claremont Port Side
Maya Booth, Editor-in-Chief, The Student Life
Below is Gann’s response.
March 4, 2013
Dear Caroline, Marina, Tim and Maya:
Thank you for your letter of March 1, 2013 regarding the policy requiring student journalists to work through the CMC Office of Public Affairs (PA) to process requests for interviews and information. I understand and appreciate your desire to help foster and maintain an environment of trust and respect.
Please also know that I am in agreement with you in terms of the flow of information. The main reason we have asked you to work with PA is to ensure that you and your reporters do receive accurate and timely information.
I am directing PA to streamline the process and make sure that student reporters are quickly informed that their requests have been received and when PA will be able to respond to the specific requests in a reasonable manner. I am also directing PA to meet with the four of you and walk you through the process so that all are in agreement and understand the process.
Again, thank you for reaching out and making me aware of your important concerns. Student media play an important role in the life of the College, and I would like to see this resolved in a way that works for all involved.
Here are pdf copies of both our letter and Gann’s response.