How do you define the criteria for selecting who should run a law school newspaper? Although it has potential for both fun and service, editing the monthly, or maybe tri-weekly, paper for the school doesn't seem to be a dream job for the average law student, perhaps because does less for the resume than does a genuinely legal job. It's a fair amount of work, and what there is in the way of financial compensation isn't much for anyone except maybe the editor in chief, who gets a partial tuition waiver.
I have to write some up some criteria we can select a new staff for the law school newspaper. Why me? Because intelligent academic administrators have a way of dealing with faculty who complain about something: they make them fix it.
Since time immemorial — well, since before I got here anyway — the law school has a student newspaper. But not a very good one. Speaking as a former student journalist, and the brother of a journalist gone bad (he's a bigshot editor now), I can say that when I got here more than ten years ago it was very bad, and has been going downhill ever since. In fact, a colleague in the School of Communications once told me he used certain issues in a class hour devoted to 'What not to do' in journalism.
The problems were legion: lousy writing, lack of editorial standards, one-sided reporting, erratic coverage, poor spelling and grammar, blurry pictures, sexist columnists, and thinly veiled personal attacks on other students. Despite all this, the faculty hesitated to intervene. Although we are private university, and the First Amendment does not apply to us, we didn't want to do anything that even came close even to sounding like censoring the newspaper. When, however, the staff selected an editor who was also a member of the student government, the students began to complain. And, conveniently, the newspaper's by-laws prohibited this conflict. Still the administration hesitated. But, when the new editor picked to run the paper for this year had the same conflict of interest, this time the administration stepped in. It asked the editor to pick one job or the other. He chose the student government over the newspaper, and the paper's staff, disorganized, did not select a successor in a timely way.
The administration chose to see this as abandonment, and now we have to have a fair process to pick a new newspaper staff. Students will be asked to put together a staff team and 'bid' for control of the resources we devote the paper (money and office space, mainly). The administration produced a lengthy 'Request For Proposals' document complete with a great deal of what seemed to me to be unnecessary bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo (must a newspaper have a Mission Statement? Can it realistically predict the % of the paper that will be devoted to letters to the editor? And so on.) I thought it was all a bit much, and that lots of it didn't have much to do with journalism.
Well, I can't say the administration didn't listen: they asked me to produce a new RFP. I'd like it short, but we need to ask enough questions to be able to distinguish meaningfully among proposalas if there is more than one.
So here are the criteria I have so far:
For the group as a whole
Planned scope and types of coverage (sample story ideas?)
Frequency of publication
A copy of the organization's by-laws, including
- Conflicts of Interest policy
- Method of selecting future staff and editors
For each proposed staff member:
Role he/she will play on the paper.
Relevant journalism or business experience
Numbers of hours per week the person will commit to spending on the newspaper
What am I missing?