UCLA’s Daily Bruin staff members strike in response to overruled vote for editor in chief

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Staff members of UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, are going on strike after their vote to elect the paper’s next editor in chief, or EIC, was overruled by a governing board Monday.

For years, newspaper’s EIC was nominated through a staff vote and confirmed by the Communications Board — a group purposed as the publisher for 11 publications on campus — which has the final say on the applicants. This year, it came as a shock to student journalists when the Communications Board decided to go against the staff’s recommendation by instead appointing the candidate who received the second-most votes.

Soon after the decision was announced, staff members posted a letter to The Daily Bruin’s website announcing their decision to strike. Signed by 43 staff members, the letter states that the “decision sets a dangerous precedent for the independence of the students’ newspaper,” suggesting undue influence on the part of Communications Board, some of whose members are appointed by the Undergraduate Students Association Council.

“We refuse to work for an organization that disrespects our decisions and thus undermines our work,” The Daily Bruin staff members said in the letter. “To expect our continued contribution while revoking our agency in this organization’s most important decision of the year without explanation is disrespectful, not only to current staffers but also to the century of staffers who precede us.”

While those on strike will not produce content for the newspaper for the duration of the strike, other staff members have announced that they will continue to work but stand in solidarity with the strike’s cause. The paper’s sports and arts & entertainment departments announced that they will continue to publish through the strike. The Daily Bruin’s current EIC, Jacob Preal, sided with the board’s decision, according to the staff letter. Preal could not be reached for comment.

Responding to the staff’s decision to strike, the Communications Board sent an email to those on strike — later published on The Daily Bruin’s website as an op-ed — explaining that board members are “honor-bound by our constitution to not share information discussed” pertaining to their decision-making process.

“The Communications Board not confirming the editor in chief that was staff-elected sets a dangerous precedent for what it is to be an independent student newspaper,” said Tomás Antonio Mier, the incoming EIC at USC’s Daily Trojan. “Newspapers like The Daily Bruin and Daily Trojan and student newspapers around the U.S. are the most important part of holding our universities responsible.”

Mier, who was elected Tuesday to lead USC’s student daily paper, mentioned that The Daily Bruin staff strike is cause for taking a second look at his own paper’s election process. Mier explained that the staff-approved candidate has historically gone undisputed by USC, which serves as the Daily Trojan’s publisher.

Stressing the importance of an independent newsroom, Mier pointed to the college admissions scandals, in which both USC and UCLA were involved.

“The most recent scandals shows that we are on the front lines of that kind of reporting,” Mier said.

In attempts to reach a resolution to the strike, members of The Daily Bruin staff met with Communications Board members Wednesday afternoon. While student journalists pressed for explanations as to why the board chose the second-place candidate, their questions were met with the board’s justifications for the need for a “dispassionate” oversight mechanism. Board members declined to clarify the internal deliberation process, citing rules in the commission’s constitution, which were created more than half a century ago.

Members of the Communications Board stated at the meeting that the oversight provided by the board is necessary for representing the broader campus community in approving the paper’s next editor in chief.

“The Daily Bruin’s … an important organization that influences the campus,” said Tim Groeling, a professor in the communication department at UCLA and a member of the Communications Board. “And having (The Daily Bruin staff) have final decision is not necessarily to the benefit of the broader campus.”

Brandon Broukhim, an undergraduate member of the board, suggested at the meeting to change the process for appointing the editor in chief in the future by releasing the newspaper’s staff choice and the board’s decision simultaneously. When mentioned at the meeting, one Daily Bruin staff member called the suggestion a move to “consolidate power” in the board by minimizing the role of the staff’s endorsement.

Further elaborating on the justification behind the decision to choose the second-place staff-endorsed candidate, Groeling mentioned that the board received “overlapping but not identical streams of information.” At the Wednesday meeting, one board representative stated that the board was “presented with additional information from other people and organizations,” which informed the board’s decision to select a different candidate.

According to the staff letter, staff members will continue “until the staff endorsement is honored or reasonable justification for the decision is provided.” Groeling said he would be “unsurprised” if some staff members of The Daily Bruin split off from the board to create an independent publication.

“I have no doubt that whoever the EIC is will be successful,” said David Gray, an assistant news editor at The Daily Bruin. “But I have a sincere hope that we will make a sincere change about how EIC and paper is structured next year, for the better.”

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that Tim Groeling, a member of the Communications Board, said he would be “unsurprised” if The Daily Bruin split off from the board and became independent. In fact, Groeling said he would be unsurprised if some staff members on strike split off from The Daily Bruin to create an independent publication.

Correction(s):
Because of misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Communications Board last went against The Daily Bruin staff’s recommendation for editor-in-chief in 2002. In fact, the board followed the staff’s recommendation in 2002.