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“What a long, strange trip it’s been…”

February 13, 2012 1 comment

By Miriam Torres, Staff Writer 

The Young Harris College Student Media Advisory Board acts as a visionary body for the Corn Creek Review, the Enotah and the Enotah Echoes. Photo by Logan Polley

The Enotah Echoes is publishing its first issue of the 2011-2012 academic year after a semester of intense deliberations that resulted in the formation of a campus-wide student media advisory board and new operating policies specific to the newspaper.

The Young Harris College Student Media Advisory Board acts as a visionary body for all official student publications on campus. The Board provides general oversight for the Enotah Echoes as well as the Corn Creek Review literary magazine and the Enotah yearbook.  The media board is composed of seven members of the YHC community. These include the Chair of the Communication Studies Department, a member from the Office of Communications and Marketing, two full-time faculty members (appointed by the Vice President for Academic Affairs), a full-time staff member from the Student Development Division, a student who is not affiliated with an official campus media organization (appointed by the Student Government Association President), and a member from the community who has journalism and/or legal experience (appointed by the President).

“When our newspaper is set alongside the newspapers from UGA and Berry and Reinhardt, and all the colleges in Georgia, we want something we can be proud of,” said Ron Roach, the vice president for Academic Affairs. “I’m very proud that the Enotah Echoes has been an award-winning paper in the past, and we want that to continue. These policies will help us to do that.”

Faculty, staff and administration also drafted the Young Harris College Media Communications Policy for Enotah Echoes, which establishes procedures for interactions with sources on campus and standards for ethical reporting.

“I think we’ve done a good job putting those pieces together so that the staff, the faculty and the students can all feel comfortable that we can all go out now and put together a first-rate newspaper without worrying about liability because of ignorance or incompetence, or just basic lack of understanding,” YHC President Cathy Cox said.

Play-by-Play

Discussions about the creation of a media advisory board took place during the 2010-2011 academic year, but little progress was achieved.  Plans were made over the summer to work on the official establishment of a board during the fall semester; however regular publication of the newspaper had been expected to continue during this process.

As a result of disagreements regarding the clarity and applicability of the Young Harris College Media Communications Policy, which outlines procedures for College interactions with all media, the Communication Studies faculty and Dean of Humanities, Ruth Looper, proposed a separate set of policies unique to Enotah Echoes.  Subsequent conversations involved faculty from Communication Studies, Looper, members of the Office of Advancement, Roach and Cox.  After the policies were developed, the administration made the decision to halt publication of the newspaper until a media advisory board was put in place.

“We figured out that we didn’t have all the policies and procedures in place to ensure that the students, staff members and the faculty members in the College were adequately protected in terms of professional ethics and liability,” said Roach.

The Effects Hit Home

The ensuing process and discussions were lengthy and, at times, contentious, and no formal resolution was achieved until after the fall semester concluded.  The semester was fraught with uncertainty for students, faculty, staff and administrators.  The staff of Enotah Echoes, who were enrolled in a course under the impression they would be consistently publishing a print edition, expressed frustration and disappointment about the timing of these decisions.

“I feel it was inappropriate that the changes taking place during the academic school year were allowed to prevent us from publishing, because the students were caught in the middle,” said Annie Hunter, managing editor of the Enotah Echoes.  “We were eager to get started this fall, but instead it felt like we were on a roller coaster that wouldn’t end.  And the campus seemed to not even know we were here or what was going on.”

“I especially saw the freshmen taking it hard, and seeing their disappointment was difficult for me,” said Editor-in-Chief Kathleen Layton.  “It bothered me to hear other students say YHC doesn’t have a newspaper. It broke my heart a little.”

Some of last year’s returning staff expressed a sense of defeat after the fall semester.  Former Staff Writer Hailey Silvey, who decided not to return to the newspaper this semester, said she gained confidence during her experience last year.  A high point for her was winning two awards from the Georgia College Press Association last spring for her feature article “Campus Hauntings” in the Halloween edition.

“I was really upset about the Enotah Echoes not publishing because I love writing for the paper,” Silvey said. “It gave me a huge sense of accomplishment to see my name in print and know I had written an article that was good enough for the entire campus to get their news from. Overall, writing for the paper gave me a lot of confidence in my writing and helped me to improve as a reporter.”

New faculty member and Newspaper Advisor Theresa Crapanzano said she continually reworked the curriculum throughout the semester in an attempt to still fulfill the academic mission of the College and the promises made in the curriculum, even when publication was halted.  Despite not publishing, all the students decided to remain in the course for the rest of semester.  Their once-a-week classes focused on ethical issues and discussions of the role of journalism in society.

“I was amazingly proud of my students and the patience, professionalism and maturity they displayed,” Crapanzano said.

Still, she noted it was “heartbreaking” to see the increasing effects on the students as the semester waned.

“I was reading their final reflection papers at the end of the semester and I kept tearing up,” she said. “But I do think the policies and procedures that are in place now will help make newspaper publication become a more streamlined process.”

Looper said it was a trying semester for everyone participating—students, faculty, administrators and staff.

“I know it was extremely difficult for the newspaper staff and for the students involved, and I regret that, and I know the administration regrets that,” said Looper. “Everyone has worked together for a wonderful end result, however frustrating some of the process might have been. Now, the newspaper staff, with a lot of guidance and training, can interview and have the training they need.”

Looper expressed gratitude and praise to staff, faculty and students, including then-chair of the Communication Studies Department, Joy Goldsmith, who was instrumental in the semester-long discussions.  She also thanked the administration “for listening.”

Back in Black

Jennifer Hallett, the new chair of the Communication Studies Department and chair of the media advisory board, said despite the “growing pains,” she’s looking forward to a great semester ahead.

“I really think it was worthwhile to take the semester off,” she said. “That’s in the past though, and the good news is: You’re back! Welcome back Enotah Echoes print edition!”

Cox noted it is crucial to foster strong communication between the newspaper and administration.  She believes the new board helps establish a better communication bridge.

“From a president’s perspective, there are two important things: make sure our students have a fabulous educational experience in writing for the paper and that our campus gets well informed because they benefit and partake of that news outlet,” she said. “I have a primary responsibility to make sure that as students participate in this that students, faculty, and the college are protected as much as possible from liability.”

Roach expressed his pleasure that Enotah Echoes is resuming publication, acknowledging the important role student newspapers play on a college campus.

“A strong student newspaper is an important part of the community at a liberal arts college and it serves several roles: it’s a teaching tool and a learning tool for students who are in the program, to learn how to be journalists; it’s also a way for the student community to express itself,” Roach said.

The process also resulted in a refinement of duties and goals.

“There has been a wonderful clarification of the purpose of the newspaper and a really necessary and wonderful clarification of the different purposes of different groups on campus,” Looper said. “It is the Department of Marketing and Communications’ job to promote the College and show all of the wonderful things that we do, and it’s the job of the student newspaper to learn as journalists, to practice their interviewing, researching, writing skills, and to serve as an academic unit of the college.”

Denise Cook, director of Communications and Marketing, was part of the discussions last semester, but, when asked about her feelings on the process and the role of the newspaper, she said she does not “have a personal opinion regarding the student newspaper’s policy or the newspaper’s image.” She noted her office is “available as a resource to help student journalists” and said any faculty and staff with questions regarding YHC’s media and communications policy can contact Communications and Marketing.

The Board’s first act was to approve the Enotah Echoes mission statement early this week, paving the way for publication.

“As disappointing as last semester was, the opposite can be said for this semester,” Layton said. “I am thrilled, I am overjoyed. It was a very difficult process for all the parties involved, but I think everyone would agree this is something that will make the college be better; it will bolster academics and hopefully provide longevity for the newspaper.”