Normally, journalists are behind the story. They’re the ones covering protests and shedding light on injustices in their communities. But this week, The Daily Bruin — the student newspaper serving UCLA — became the story. Dozens of Daily Bruin staffers went on strike to expose an issue often overlooked: editorial independence.
Staffers and editors at the Daily Bruin announced their strike on the paper’s website after UCLA’s Communications Board, which oversees the newspaper, rejected the staff’s majority vote for its next editor in chief Monday. Even though the board is technically under no obligation to follow the staff’s vote, disregarding a candidate who won the majority vote — without giving any explanation at the time — sets a dangerous precedent that could undermine the independence of these student journalists.
It goes without saying that the board should have followed the staff vote. No one knows that institution better than the student staffers and editors who give up an obscene number of hours to produce a paper every day. If the staff voted for a certain candidate — regardless of how close that race was — that vote should be upheld. After all, what’s the point of a student vote if it can be easily disregarded?
Even worse, some members of the Communications Board are appointed by the Undergraduate Students Association Council — UCLA’s student government. The Daily Bruin covers UCLA’s student government, and if that institution has any authority over the newspaper’s leadership, that can compromise the paper’s integrity.
The legitimacy of newspapers across the nation is being threatened on a regular basis, and the fact that this is now happening to student newspapers is unsettling.
The Daily Californian’s editorial board stands in solidarity with the Daily Bruin’s staffers on strike this week, but it’s absurd that they even have to take such drastic measures for the right to elect their own leader. While complete independence from the university seems like an easy fix to this issue, it does also come with its own list of challenges — including long-term financial sustainability. It’s up to the Daily Bruin if it ultimately wants to take that step to ensure editorial independence. But regardless, the Communications Board’s decision is unacceptable.
The Communications Board is exerting its power in a place it doesn’t belong. Newspapers must be autonomous in their ability to hold all institutions of power accountable to the community, and student papers are no exception. Student editors in chief are forced to make difficult decisions about their publication the same way editors of professional newspapers do — and the Daily Bruin’s staffers have every right to choose who that person is.
The Communications Board needs to learn its place, and leave the critical decisions up to the Daily Bruin.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.