Booted briefly, Daily Collegian gets its office back

  • Top editors from the Massachusetts Daily Collegian pose inside the newspaper’s office at UMass Amherst in 2017. JESSICA PICARD

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2018 12:11:14 AM

AMHERST — Journalists at the University of Massachusetts’ student newspaper have proven that the pen — or the tweet, at least — really can be powerful.

Students at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian announced Tuesday that the university was booting them out of their Campus Center office with little forewarning, making way for storage as part of a renovation project at the adjacent Student Union building.

“I find it difficult to grasp that academic professionals and project managers with a decently-sized budget couldn’t find access to a different space for storage on a campus larger than 1,400 acres,” Morgan Reppert, the paper’s assistant opinion and editorial editor, wrote in a sharply worded editorial. “No concrete information or a point of contact was given to Collegian staffers, and there has been no transparency with the move. I am at a loss for words with how this was handled by the University.”

The debacle isn’t the first difficulty that the paper has faced recently. The Collegian scaled back its print edition beginning in January of this year in order to shore up its finances.

Reppert’s editorial, and posts from the journalists on social media, generated a flurry of reactions from alumni who have worked at the Collegian over the years. And soon the university had reversed course, apologizing and allowing the newspaper to retain all of its current space.

“University staff planning renovations to the adjacent Student Union did not fully appreciate how the newspaper uses the space, and as a result identified part of it as a potential storage area during construction,” university spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said in a statement. “The journalistic work and traditions of the Collegian are an essential part of the UMass community, and the university admires and respects the work done by our student journalists.”

The room is tucked away in a windowless basement room in the Campus Center, and certainly isn’t pretty. But Collegian staff have made it a second home as they made the newspaper there for more than 30 years.

“This office has endless memories,” said Hayley Johnson, the paper’s editor-in-chief. Those memories clutter the space — old clips, photo negatives and signatures of former staffers on the walls and door, for example. “We’ve spent more hours here than a lot of people have spent in their dorms or offices.”

The space was necessary to continue producing the paper, Johnson said. But on Nov. 30, during a regular meeting with the paper’s university adviser, someone involved in the Student Union renovations told Johnson the journalists would have to clear out, she said.

“He kind of was like, ‘We’re taking over your space, how fast can you move out?’” Johnson recalled of the interaction with the employee, who did not give his name. Johnson said she was told the paper would be given a grace period, but then the university moved stuff in.

With no other option seemingly available, the journalists began to pack up; they removed the door all seniors sign before leaving school, and earlier this week made their disappointment with the university clear.

It wasn’t even a day before university administrators had given the Collegian its home back. Johnson said the university’s news office reached out immediately, and apologized for the situation. She said John Kennedy, the university’s vice chancellor for university relations, showed up in person to apologize.

“That was cool,” Johnson said. “He said that he wasn’t really aware” of the situation the Collegian was experiencing.

B.J. Roche, a senior lecturer in the university’s journalism department, said the incident is an example of the power of social media and journalism in the digital age. She referenced the classic adage about the pitfalls of upsetting newspaper journalists: “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

“I guess it’s now pixels by the barrel,” Roche joked. “Or never get into a battle with people who know how to use Instagram.”

Roche, who wrote for the Collegian when she was a UMass Amherst student in the late ’70s, said alumni care passionately about the paper and came out in full force to voice frustration with the university’s handling of the move.

The Collegian will still be moving to a new space eventually. Once the $55 million renovation of the Student Union is completed — slated for 2020 — the paper will get new digs in that building, where its office was before moving down to the Campus Center basement.

“I think ultimately that will be a good thing for them,” Roche said of the move.

Until then, Johnson said she is now under the impression that the paper will be able to keep the old space. In the end, though, she said the paper’s work remains the same, regardless of the room it uses.

“The Collegian will continue to hold the university accountable and produce the high quality of journalism that we do hold ourselves to,” Johnson said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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