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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

EDITORIAL: A desk altered but opinions thrive at the Wildcat

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In February, the Daily Wildcat disbanded its Opinions desk – for the time being. The top leaders of our newspaper made this decision after careful consideration and we stand by our reasoning. We hope to clear up any misunderstandings or questions the University of Arizona and greater Tucson community may have about this situation.

The decision 

The Wildcat has always believed in bringing trustworthy and reliable news to the University of Arizona campus community and all its readers. An established part of the Wildcat ecosystem will always be opinion pieces and allowing our reporters to speak candidly about the world around them. 

However, after months of struggling financially and carefully weighing our options, we chose to dissolve our Opinions desk. We considered a few different plans to keep our newspaper afloat, but ultimately landed on this decision for a few reasons. One of the main reasons is that for the last year or so, this desk has had some of the lowest production overall and many submissions often raised concerns of quality or lack of diverse topics. 

To address a concern some individuals have brought to our attention, we want to make it clear that decision came internally from the Wildcat and the Wildcat alone. The decision was never forced upon the paper externally by anyone at the UA. The Wildcat is an independent news organization able to function with all the rights and freedoms of any journalistic entity provided under the First Amendment. With that being said, the Wildcat made the decision to dissolve its least productive desk with a clear conscience and a well-defined plan to keep opinions articles alive — desk editors or not.

Why the decision was made 

The UA did in many ways tie the hands of student media along with the rest of the university’s many departments due to the financial crisis, and by that we mean the Wildcat was instructed to cut 5% of its budget like the rest of the university. The decision on what to cut was the paper’s decision alone. 

The Opinions desk had been on a steady decline in the amount of content, and as aforementioned, little drive was seen by the Wildcat Opinions staff to take up the mantle of speaking bravely and with clear cut opinions about the problems facing our world today. Even after the desk was notified of the decision to disperse its writers to other desks and given the opportunity to write on the frequent basis we expect from staff, not a peep has been made about a desire to write an opinion piece on the safety of our school or concerning boycotts on campus. 

This is also not the first time the UA has had financial trouble and has forced departments, including student media, to make budget cuts. El Independiente used to be a printed edition of student media that was thrown out due to budget cuts when the UA enforced a 3% cut in the late ’80s. El Independiente has made a comeback like so many other areas of student media, this time coming back as part of a UA class that has now rebranded itself into Arizona Sonoran News.

It is important to inform our readers that the reasons outlined above helped solidify the fact that currently the Wildcat could not financially support the Opinions desk as an independent desk. 

Previous measures taken

The desk editors who held positions on Opinions were notified in the 2023 fall semester that Opinions was creating less content than the established rule of thumb: a two article minimum from each desk published a week to the Wildcat website. 

Over the course of the academic year, specifically from August 2023 to February 2024, the Opinions desk and its editors produced nine stories out of the 516 total stories published at the Wildcat. On the basis of numbers alone, the Opinions desk only made up around 3% of all articles written at our publication so far this academic year. 

The desk editors were notified of the reasons why Opinions was no longer an established desk, reasons that included the cost to operate a desk which largely came from paying the desk editor salary stipend every two weeks. This was no longer financially reasonable.

They were also notified that Opinions writers — that do not receive a stipend but rather get paid per story as all other reporters at the Wildcat do — were welcome to stay and be added to any other desk of their choosing. 

It was also clarified that those reporters were not expected to change from opinion writers, but rather would just have access to editors on a regular basis for the occasional article they wanted to write. Similar to how news reporters are welcome to write the occasional investigative journalism story, but no set desk or specific editor exists for investigative reporting. 

The response and addressing misinformation

After this was communicated in February, and other conversations were facilitated about what the goal for Opinions would be moving forward, an article was published in the Arizona Daily Star written by the previous desk editors. 

This article emphasizes that the decision was made as a budgetary decision but fails to outline how Opinions was creating the least output of any desk and was notified that, after reviewing the entirety of the Wildcat department, the Opinions desk was settled upon as the necessary cut to make when analyzing our budget. It fails to mention that at no point was there a statement made that Opinions specifically had to be cut and that censorship was possibly at play.

In the Daily Star article, the previous editors reference an opinion article concerning the UA financial crisis published Jan. 30 by the Wildcat and suggest that the timing of its publication followed by the removal of the Opinions editor positions is suspicious. Though this piece was an opinion article, it was written by a news reporter under the guidance of the Wildcat News editor. The author of this piece wanted to write about the situation because no one else at the Wildcat was or had even expressed interest in doing so. No one affiliated with the Opinions desk had a hand in creating that content, which actually shows that editorial staff have faith and a desire to uplift more student voices, rather than less.

This piece helped leadership to understand the Wildcat did not need a specific desk for people to voice their opinion and anyone on any desk could and should be able to write opinions pieces. When we made the decision, the Wildcat was not concerned about overwhelming other editors with the burden of more reporters since the Opinions desk was only operating with six reporters. 

Tucson Agenda, a grassroots journalism organization, also chimed in on the dissolvement of the desk on March 14 by publishing within its newsletter a conversation between journalist and UA adjunct instructor of journalism Caitlin Schmidt and the previous Wildcat Opinions editor. Schmidt, a seasoned journalist, made no request for comment from any of the editorial staff mentioned within the article, or from the Wildcat as a whole, and published blatantly false information that could have been fact checked readily. This includes the publication of a quote citing that the Wildcat operates 18 desks. The Wildcat currently operates five desks, and has not had more than about eight at a time in many years now. 

The article also fails to verify the information offered by Olivia Krupp, that she was told reviews would be allowed but future publication of actual Opinions pieces were in murky territory. This is adamantly false and was never part of the conversation that was had with either of the previous desk editors. It is of note that Krupp has never written a review of any kind and had actually been encouraged in conversations to curate more hard-hitting opinion pitches, the very kind of pieces she herself has a talent for writing. Most notable though is that movie and theater reviews published during the previous Opinions editors’ tenure came directly from Arts & Life reporters that were then edited by Arts & Life editors.

These reviews once lived under the same website tab as Opinions, but to prevent future confusion of who is curating what content, reviews now has a new home under its own distinction on the Wildcat site. 

If Tucson Agenda was aiming to bring reliable and honest journalism to the Tucson community, it failed when it failed to uplift transparency about a student media organization operating with students that work directly under both the Agenda and the Wildcat. How can the Agenda be a reliable source of information for the public when reporting on other stories when it passes on the opportunity to report this story the right way? Frankly, it is a shame. 

In the days following the decision to dissolve the desk, but not the idea of Opinions at the Wildcat, Opinions have been published — and will always continue to be published. 

Moving forward 

It is disheartening to see the circulation of stories that offer little to no clarity about the reasons Opinions was dissolved and instead bring up a myriad of questions and room for speculation. It is our duty as journalists to inform, give answers and bring truth to light. What has happened in the weeks following a decision made to better our paper has shown a lack of integrity that is shocking. 

The Wildcat has had several editorial board positions and entire desks that have been removed or changed to better serve the paper. One example of this is the position for a Science editor, who had the responsibility to operate an entire desk to create science and health-related content for many years, was also dissolved a year ago. 

When the decision was made to fold the Science desk into the News desk, there was no concentrated outrage resulting in published articles or confusion about science content having a place at the Wildcat still. Science newsletters still get sent out and articles are still written and published. Now those responsibilities are simply upheld by the News desk. This did not burn out the News desk because the level of interest or number of reporters writing science content was not enough to necessitate its own individual editor. 

The same will hold true for Opinions. Future days at the Wildcat may include reinstating the set role of an Opinions editor, but that decision, like all the ones made in recent months, will lie in the hands of the student journalists who operate the newsroom. 

Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat Editorial Board and are written in collaboration by its members. This piece was written by Editor-in-Chief Nathanial Stenchever and Managing Editor Kate Ewing.


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