Board of The Daily asks students to misread its Constitution, after The Tribune criticized The Daily’s reps for not being forthright

[ UPDATE 5/16/08: After the mini-controversy about this, including Nelles’ threat to sue the McGill Tribune, the Daily decided to reform the Constitution to allow for referenda in situations other than fee increases — but this was after the last issue for 2007-2008. The Daily evidently thought that their argument in the Hyde Park I discuss in this post was not so persuasive. ]

The DPS Board does a Hyde Park in today’s issue, which seems related to The McGill Tribune’s pointing out, while endorsing a YES vote for The Daily’s funding, that the Daily’s Coordinating Editor, Drew Nelles, made incorrect remarks to The Montreal Gazette and The Mirror. Nelles stated wrongly that The McGill Daily — without the University’s 5-year requirement — gives students referenda rights to question The Daily’s funding and anything else.

Nelles has not yet corrected these remarks for McGill students, which he made just before the voting period started. Evidently, he weighed his fear (if not his vanity) against the traditional role of the journalist in a democratic society as someone who is supposed to increase the flow of information (and prevent obscurantism) so people can make the most informed decisions when they go to vote. The Board writes collectively:

Running a referendum campaign takes a lot of time, energy, and money, but it has its perks: students have actually sat down to read through the constitution and bylaws of the Daily Publications Society (DPS) to figure out what is going on. We’ve even received some questions about the possibility of a student-initiated referendum as well as the legality of the referendum currently underway.

This introduction seems like a way for the writer to address The Tribune’s criticisms without directly referring people who haven’t read it already to the Tribune’s critical endorsement. (How many questions about student-initiated referenda did they actually get from non-contributors to The Daily? Did they get any emails about it or just a few remarks from friends that read the Tribune endorsement?) Anyway…

If the writer isn’t assuming people won’t check up when he or she alludes to a section number in The Daily’s Constitution, he/she is confident that most of the students who do look up the section number will acquiesce to any rationalization that the Board attempts. The Board writes:

Who could bring a referendum forward? At present, only members of the DPS Board of Directors can do so directly, but student-initiated referenda with the same consequences as the current one are also made possible in article 16 (4).

In the online version of the Hyde Park, I put a link to the Constitution in the comment space. If we go to Article 16 we can see:

PROCEDURE AND PROCESS FOR QUESTIONS TO BE VOTED ON BY MEMBERS OF THE DPS

16. (1) Voting on questions requiring the decision of the membership of the DPS may be held at an AGM [Annual General Meeting] or SGM [Special General Meeting], except when the question pertains to fees.

This implies that “voting on questions requiring the decision of the DPS” is held at only these two kinds of meetings — in other words, not through a referendumexcept when we’re talking about fees (i.e., potential fee increases). Now heading to 16(4) :

(4) Questions Initiated by Members:
(a) No question may be proposed by a DPS member at large directly to the CRO for balloting at a SGM, an AGM, or a referendum.

So the Constitution specifically differentiates these voting meetings from a referendum and is saying No to a question of a potential referendum in this particular line. The Board understands the difference between a “general meeting” and a “referendum” without the Constitution telling them. There are Board members who were in student government. And The Daily has done tons of articles dealing with how a General Assembly is different from a referendum and whether, in various circumstances, a GA or a referendum best represents the principles of direct democracy. Here’s the remaining section of 16(4):

(b) The DPS member is required to have one (1) of the six (6) elected Directors from the Board act on her/his question. The member will submit a written report of his concern to a Director. The Director will ask to have the matter inscribed on an agenda of a duly constituted meeting. Any motion must be moved and seconded and voted on at that meeting [i.e., Board meeting — DW: Someone calling themselves “Board member” on The Daily website pointed that out to me]. If the question is adopted it will be given to the CRO by the Chairperson.

That’s all of 16(4), and it indicates no referendum right at all. If you open the Constitution as a .pdf file, and search for “referendum” or “referendums” or “referenda,” we see that there is no such right for the student, and referenda are only indicated for questions of fees …

in fact only for questions of fee increases. This referendum process alluded to in 16(4a), with reference to the CRO, is shown to apply to fee increases in 10(1) :

CHIEF RETURNING OFFICER (CRO)

10. (1) The DPS shall have a CRO. He/she shall be chosen by the Board of Directors. The CRO is responsible for overseeing any election or vote at an AGM, and any poll or vote at a SGM. The CRO will also be responsible for running any fee increase referendum.

Did all the Board members get to approve this Hyde Park before one or a few of them wrote it?

This Hyde Park could have easily said something like, “Although students can’t bring referenda to vote yet and there is no provision for them to bring referenda through DPS Board members, they can address problems they have with The Daily by getting the Board to present a question for voting at an Annual General Meeting or Specific General Meeting. They can then attend and vote at that meeting, where they will have the same voting rights as anyone in attendance.”

What a simple thing to say to get across some truth, after the misunderstandings Nelles fostered in his interviews with The Gazette and The Mirror, which The Tribune responsibly noted in their endorsement of the YES vote. Someone(s) on The Board decided that the simple route — Nelles reevaluating his published comments — wasn’t as desirable as a much more complicated route around a problem: retroactively trying to clean up what they saw as a potential mark on the reputation of the Coordinating Editor of the newspaper and the conduct of the YES Committee.

Wanting to absolve Nelles from The Trib’s criticism, they radically misread line 16(4a), which is only a rule that a student can’t try to force a referendum through the head electoral officer. This is an important rule to keep cadres of students from interfering with the Daily, since going to the head electoral officer with your proposed referendum is the only way student-initiated referenda happen at McGill.

____________

And Nelles waxes on, in the belief he’s a victim ….

There wouldn’t have been anything on this count to damage Nelles’ reputation if he had just admitted a mistake to the students before the voting period started. (He could have added, as the Board says today, that the Constitution could be altered at the General Meeting in April.) To err is human; we understand.

If Nelles had acted quickly to clear up misconceptions prompted by his remarks, the students would have seen that The Daily had a Coordinating Editor who subordinated other concerns — including his own pride or the loss of a few votes in the referendum — to the journalistic responsibility to provide students full information for the imminent vote.

Nelles could have simply admitted the mistake, and gone on editing his newspaper, doing his best to be a good journalist. But like he did in this Op-Ed — where he claimed to be victim of bluster who did nothing but follow the advice of a lawyer — our Coordinating Editor is again not accepting responsibility for what he says or does at the paper. Feeling righteous in victimhood was the attitude that produced Nelles’ remarkable quote which I [had once] put at the top of the blog, if you read its context:

Occasionally, during my darkest hours, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing at The Daily. I wonder if we should maybe give this journalistic-objectivity, fair-and-balanced thing a shot. But [the conduct of Gazette reporter Peggy] Curran and The Gaz have eased my worries.

With Nelles and the Board presenting an undivided front that his mistakes were really not mistakes, how are students going to trust Board members to faithfully represent their wishes at one of the DPS meetings they describe in the Hyde Park?

“Bests” before the referendum

Some of these people I’ve complimented before, but here goes …

Best all-around writer: Braden Goyette. A Culture editor next year please.

Best news writer: Lendon Ebbels. Ebbels’ stories had interesting details that got beyond the two-toned story, and opened up every subject, made you want to learn more about it.  But there were a lot of close seconds here. Max Halperin had the tight-as-drum news style down, but it seemed to lose a little life. Jennifer Markowitz wrote well, approaching stories midway between the styles of Ebbels and Halperin.

Best culture writer: Claire Caldwell. Her writing got almost totally outside the jargon bubble and she had the best control of tone … Maybe a few of the other writers if they had racked up more stories would have come close to Caldwell but she was leagues better than the ones who wrote a lot.

Best illustrations: a lot of the stuff in The Daily Art Supplement was good, but truth is I’m only really familiar with Dave Pullmer’s stuff … He was consistently good all year, probably the asset of The Daily that The Tribune could have got into a bidding war over to attract more attention to their paper, if stuff like that happened. (And as I understand it, the stipend for editors at The Daily is MUCH higher than for The Tribune editors who only get $250 per year or semester, I can’t remember which. [UPDATE here.])

Best compendium writer: Duncan Stockwell Links. Although his first piece of the year was really unimpressive, everything afterward went on to show talent. The Beatles revisionism was creative, if it didn’t have much laughs and he started to get outright funny with the “pennies” piece. I’m sorry I didn’t find an opportunity to compliment him between then and now but serious things intervened like the Rachel-Corrie-and-Anne-Frank-are-soul-sisters cover piece, with its related errors.

Best column: I guess it was Floh Herra-Vega’s, which was always well-written and honest … It didn’t try to “spin” anything. Although I can’t recall agreeing with her on what she picked to write about, you never got the sense she was shutting down conversation.

Best html code: that would have to be Peter Hurley, the web editor. But seriously the new website showed major possibilities as soon as it was up, and will probably improve the quality of The Daily for the next 5 years, when they have another referendum.

The Tribune’s endorsement today for The Daily gets it mostly right

Here are the Tribune’s endorsements, and here is the part relating to The Daily (I’ll link to Daily Watch discussion that relates to the points in the Trib piece) :

The Tribune encourages a “Yes” vote concerning the Daily Publication Society referendum. Undoubtedly, securing the continuing fiscal existence of our neighbours downstairs is essential to preserving a diverse campus press, as well as honouring the legacy of the 97-year old paper. That being said, the campaigning by the “Yes Committee” has been marked by half-truths, electioneering and misleading information regarding the publication society’s constitution.

Nobody is explicitly targeting the Daily or le Délit, contrary to what the [YES] committe[e] would have students believe — rather, they simply need a renewed mandate from students in order to sign a new Memorandum of Agreement with the University. Such mandates are routine matters for independent clubs and services. Indeed, even the Daily’s most vehement critics (see dailywatch.blogspot.com) [sic] support the fee renewal.

Out of sportsmanship as much as wanting not to traumatically interrupt our having competing campus media until The Daily can hold an emergency referendum.

Further, the Daily should not be the only major on-campus fee that is not opt-outable. QPIRG, the Midnight Kitchen, CKUT and the Tribune all accept the accountability that comes with accepting student funds. In 2004, when students tried to make the hefty DPS fee optional, the papers fought tooth and nail to avoid such a situation, even taking the question to J-Board and getting the results sealed on a technicality. As of now students cannot opt-out of the Daily’s $5 per semester fee, or even vote to lower the paper’s fee.

Assuming that its editorial policies or the Constitution don’t stay exactly the same — and I don’t believe they’ll stay exactly the same — I don’t think all $10 per year should be opt-outable for each student. The possibility of a total opt-out might put too much pressure on the editorial content.

Coordinating editor Drew Nelles has told both the Montreal Gazette and the Mirror that students can theoretically organize a referendum to address any potential problems with the paper, but this is not actually the case. The Daily’s constitution autocratically states that questions regarding lowering the Daily fee or even make it opt-outable are “inadmissible.”

Nelles needs to at least correct this in Thursday’s issue or in the Daily’s blog before the voting period ends.

Further, the Daily has not been our independent student paper since 1911. Rather, they secured independence from SSMU in 1981. Despite these factual oversights and distortions on

Is The Tribune making the point that The Daily was acting pretty independently for years even though it wasn’t officially separate from the student body? I guess that’s a fair point … but it eventually had to fight SSMU to stay independent, and then in 1986 had to directly fight the students to keep their editors. The Tribune also has editorial autonomy, but how easily could that be taken away?

the part of the Yes committee, a “No” vote would seriously jeopardize the continued existence of the Daily and le Délit and imperil our diverse campus media — a wholly undesirable situation.

Yep.

So who’s the new Features editor?…

Someone has pointed out to me that Perrin Valli, who wrote the letter addressed to me in Monday’s letter column, had written a feature piece in the Green Issue, that it was actually pretty good and he is set to be one of the better writers in The Daily next year …

OK … In retrospect, I’m not sure Valli understood what I was asking for in the sense of professionalism. (For a start, I meant things like telling the students before they go to vote that the Features editor they’ve been paying who has been involved in a big controversy — a controversy which has bigger implications because of how the other editors handled it — is no longer the Features editor.) It’s worth mentioning that Valli’s Features piece and his news article are good, and his earlier letter even has a both-sides balance, while backing a principle of conscientiousness. Why not make Valli the new Features editor? I half-jokingly suggested the guy from CKUT before, but of the writers that are not editors, Valli or Ebbels (the younger, not the current Coordinating News editor) would seem like good possibilities. Why have another person who is considered an ideologue?

Max Reed on CKUT: publishing would be tough if there was only ad revenue, editing might be tough if there were opt-outs

I found the audio link on the SAVE THE DAILY Facebook group. I respect Reed’s work in student government. I’d trust him and Daniel Langer more the others on the DPS Board to see the need for reforms of editorial policies.

Reed makes a fair point about what might happen if The Daily could only rely on advertising revenues. The “advertising market is volatile,” he says, and could change with an economic slowdown. The Daily has to project its budget for the year and keep paying its fulltime staff. (Yes, but let’s be honest, they don’t necessarily have to give the editors stipends, when the editors weren’t paid even when The Daily actually came out daily. It’s still a resume-builder.)

But then Reed really falters, with all sorts of pauses, when he talks about how The Daily’s autonomy would be threatened if there were opt-outs. Check out the interview around 8 min, 20 sec in. He eventually sputters out that if a group didn’t like their coverage of an issue they could organize for more opt-outs.

I agree, if we must set aside the question of the willpower of the editorial staff in a given year, we could say the unpredictability of available funding might impinge on the newspaper’s autonomy. However, the opposite situation, where the students have no voice in how much they give a newspaper that might take them for granted, is not more desirable, more democratic, or more free.

The “non-hierarchal” ideal of The Daily inherently contradicts complete autonomy from the student body. It’s understandable why Max Reed was having difficulty balancing those principles when he discussed a potential effect of opt-outs. I’m not saying his interview was obscurantist at all; it was fine. But there are plenty of potential compromises that Max Reed might be able to recognize after the referendum. For example …

What about giving the students the right to hold a referendum on temporarily docking the obligatory fees for The Daily by $1 or the right to hold a referendum on making only $1 (of the $5 semester fee) opt-outable for the individual student? The Daily used to be an independent newspaper with accountability to the students written into the Constitution, but since the 1986 referendum, the Constitution doesn’t let students bring anything to a referendum. That’s contrary to the “non-hierarchal,” egalitarian structure The Daily says it should have.

There are ways to make the Daily more accountable to the students, to give students more rights over their fees, and keep the amount of revenue predictable enough for the editors to feel free to exercise their consciences when editing.

What to title this post … it has to do with puppies …

I got an email from the SPCA foster program today that says,

Foster parents for dogs wanted: Our inspection service recently seized a puppy mill. The dogs that are in good health are going to the adoption department but many of them are in too bad shape for that. We need to place them in temporary foster homes as soon as possible because once those ones will be out, we will bring back other dogs from the same place that are waiting for us to be saved. We need a fast answer from you all foster parents to save those who are still waiting for our help. Please forward this message to all the people you know!! Moreover, we have about 10 dogs that have kennel cough to place… Spare them from staying in a cage longer by visiting us today! […] We would like to remind you that we provide food to start and that we have a vet you can see for 5$ [if necessary, and the SPCA pays for any medication] .

I put their blog in the blogroll, where you can see some of the pictures of the adult dogs they have waiting for foster care right now. Some of them are just too thin; some have something like the flu.

Last year, The Daily had an article on how they were about to gas kittens for lack of space, and it moved me to go to the SPCA to foster some, as I heard it did for other people as well.

No transparency before the referendum: Features editor Martin Lukacs is now EX-features editor Martin Lukacs

[Story in progress — what is now posted has been confirmed by a reliable source who got it from Lukacs himself . “Resigned, fired: same thing,” he notes.]

… and The Daily didn’t want to tell us, not in a note in the newspaper, not in the masthead of the newspaper (where they instead listed a character from a pay cable show), not on their new blog — which they say will provide

extra background and information on how and why we do what we do. Also, editors will post their thoughts about current issues on campus […] such as the current referendum on The Daily’s existence

— and not in a column by the Coordinating Editor or one by the Public Editor, although they both promised to reassess the plagiarism allegations against Lukacs when the SPJ Ethics Committee updated their opinions. Those updated opinions were officially in over reading week.

The students are members of the Daily Publications Society and have a right to know whether they have a Features editor, and if not, why not. It doesn’t matter how close the referendum is. [Board member Sarah Colgrove erased the question when I asked her on Facebook wall whether her previous statement on the wall indicated that Lukacs was gone.] Let the students vote YES after they have full information from (in the words of the YES Committee) “a press you can trust [,] regardless of your political views.” That’s the purpose of a free press in a democracy.

I wrote in the last post:

hopefully, someone won’t have to tell these people who assure us they’re responsible journalists, who are so focused on their serious public task and obligation of honesty to readers, that telling students their only Features editor is a character from a premium cable TV show is fucking amazing.

Well, Daily guys and gals, listen up: it’s fucking amazing, a new level of crime against transparency.

… That said, the work in the art
supplement was very nice.

[UPDATE, 3/16/08 : There is currently no Features editor listed on the online masthead, and another character from the TV show The Wire, “Omar Little,” is listed as the Features editor in the .pdf issue of the newspaper. ]