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Minnesota Daily's independence tested in push for non-student adviser

Many Minnesota Daily employees aren't too keen on the idea of a non-student 'adviser,' but might wind up getting one anyway.

Many Minnesota Daily employees aren't too keen on the idea of a non-student 'adviser,' but might wind up getting one anyway. Google

The Minnesota Daily is one of the last student-run college newspapers in the country. That could soon change.

The board that oversees the Daily recently directed the paper’s editor-in-chief to collect staff feedback about the possibility of adding an editorial advisor to the newsroom.

Overwhelmingly the answer was: “We don’t need one,” according to the Daily’s editor-in-chief, Kelly Busche. The paper’s employees take pride in their independence, says Busche, adding: “We’re student-run, we’re scrappy, and we compete with the city’s major news outlets.”

That said, Busche says she’s “happy that the board is going to have these conversations,” and that she could see an advisory role assisting with training, and providing institutional knowledge in the newsroom.

The board also asked Busche to “review the Daily’s operations” and create a “best practices” report on things like tracking corrections to stories and increasing the number of staff meetings. Due to an "incredibly young staff" this year, Busche says the Daily saw a steep learning curve, with staffers forced into demanding roles as journalists or newsroom leaders.

Busche’s report outlines three different approaches to an advisor role. One would be a full-time, hands-on employee; a second type would be a part-time employee focused mainly on training; a third would split time between working for the University and the paper. That third option, the half-Daily, half-U employee, is most likely to not come completely from the Daily’s budget, according to Busche.

Salary is yet to be determined, but more than half of all college paper newsroom advisors make between $65,000 and $70,000 a year, according to a 2014 study done by the Collegiate Media Association of its members.

Some in the Daily newsroom think that money could be spent more wisely elsewhere. “We need more reporters, and reporters who are better paid,” Busche said.

Busche says regardless of pay or job description, any advisor hired won’t have editorial power. University lecturer and Minnesota Daily board president Gayle Golden says the goal is not to interfere with the independence of the paper.

“The board has simply asked for some information about what the staff thinks would be valuable for training and advisory advice for developing stories,” Golden says.

“At first blush, this isn’t anything new,” says former Daily editor (and City Pages reporter) David Brauer. “Things go back and forth between the Daily board wanting more control and [student] editorial saying ‘leave us alone,’ and boards saying ‘we trust the [student] editorial board.’”

Star Tribune reporter and former Daily employee Andy Mannix says working for a student-run paper meant “the victories were sweeter and the losses stung harder, because we earned them entirely ourselves.”

An experienced advisor could “offer valuable guidance” at times, but Mannix thinks students should also learn from their mistakes. “I feel that the negative aspects of this would outweigh the positive.”

According to Chris Evans, president of the College Media Association (CMA), “advisors are primarily educators and not editors.” Evans strongly believes advisors should have no say in the final product and are there specifically to offer advice – which can be taken or rejected by the students without repercussions.

Evans is also the faculty advisor to the University of Vermont’s student newspaper, the Vermont Cynic. “I see the paper when it hits the stands like everyone else, which is the case for most advisors” he said. Evans said the Daily is in the “vast minority” of paper’s without an advisor.

In a 2018 CMA benchmarking survey of its members, 11 percent of respondents said they “approve and/or edit content,” 75 percent said they “look at content occasionally, if student editors ask,” and 14 percent said they “never look at content before it is published.”

The CMA’s code of ethics states “the adviser is a journalist, educator and manager who is, above all, a role model,” and “student media must be free from all forms of external interference.”

Current Daily features editor Cleo Krejci said she thinks the paper needs to strengthen its editing processes, and understands the board’s push for an advisor. She’s hoping the two sides find a middle ground that leaves the paper’s independence intact.

“I think it’s cool and unique that we are student-run,” Krecji says, “and we should try and protect that as long as we can.”