This past week, the Augustana Students’ Association (ASA) chose not to renew the current Dagligtale Editor contract for the 2016-17 academic year over what they cited as “managerial concerns.” The decision comes at the end of a year where the Dagligtale has struggled for editorial independence from the ASA.
The ASA’s decision was disappointing to all of us who have invested hundreds of hours to improve the Dagligtale and struggled to create an independent publication for Augustana students. In fact, the Dagligtale has never had higher readership, online engagement or revenue than it did this year.
In response to this decision, 12 of the remaining 14 staff members have formally resigned from the Dagligtale in protest. All members, including the two who did not submit formal resignations, have extended publication rights for their works to a new campus media organization: The Augustana Free Press.
The Augustana Free Press Ltd. was officially incorporated on April 15, 2016 as an independent media organization with no ties to the ASA, and will continue to publish great content produced by the same team that made the Dagligtale so successful this year. The name of the new publication is still undecided.
Our editorial staff and content writers have long held concern about the editorial influence exerted by the ASA’s relationship to the Dagligtale. After gathering over 300 signatures from the student body, the ASA finally agreed to enter independence talks. Their unilateral and untimely decision not to rehire the Dagligtale’s editorial team is contrary to the good faith of these talks.
Back in December, when the ASA listened to the students and created a Dagligtale Independence Committee, we wrote that “the ASA student council and executive are the elected representatives of the Augustana student body. […] The student media creates accountability by reporting on the ASA’s actions and decisions.” We then added that we were “impressed with the professional and constructive approach the ASA has shown towards resolving this issue.”
Unfortunately, this no longer holds true. Due to the ASA’s insistence on confidentiality agreements, independence talks took place behind closed doors and could not involve the public. Members of our team who were on the committee would have preferred the meetings to be open and transparent. The ASA has acted opaquely throughout the year, keeping secrets from the student body.
We first became concerned with the ASA’s conduct in April 2015 when an ASA representative told incoming Dagligtale editors that they were dissatisfied with the Dagligtale’s lack of coverage of an ASA event. The representative also said that the ASA could consider Dagligtale event coverage when rehiring each spring. This was a threat of interference if the editors did not produce the content the ASA wanted.
This year, our greatest challenge in operating the Dagligtale was dealing with the ASA. When we had difficulties in the Fall, they turned down the university’s offer of mediation services. Further, they often declined our requests for regular meetings to coordinate the management of the Dagligtale.
Over the past two years, our team has seen the Dagligtale grow from a readership base of approximately 35 percent of students to over 80 percent. Our revenue from advertising increased by 3000 percent, allowing us to cover more stories and deliver better content. Staff retention also increased: In 2014 only two staff member returned to the Dagligtale; in 2015, every non-graduating staff member returned. Further, several articles by staff members were picked up and published in the Camrose Canadian.
We hit many milestones together as a team. The Dagligtale joined the Canadian University Press and participated in their national journalism conference in Toronto. There, staff members were mentored by experts from Maclean’s Magazine, Buzzfeed Canada, the Huffington Post and others. We also attended the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Symposium and the Alberta Magazines Conference, and our ad team presented at the Alberta Student Leadership Summit. The connections we’ve developed over the year have led to a stronger paper with content that’s more read than ever before.
This year, we launched a new website that garnered 26000 page views, with over 6000 in the final month of our tenure alone. Our social media reach climbed steadily and we had doubled our Facebook following by the end of March. Several articles reached thousands of people.
Our team has never been stronger or more talented, and we’re excited about what we’ll be able to achieve as the Augustana Free Press. This year, members of our team were selected for several national journalism projects, and some have found paid employment in the industry.
The Dagligtale was built on a team of editors, writers, photographers, and graphic artists who believed in what they did and went above and beyond the minimum requirements. We’re confident we can do even better as the Augustana Free Press.
If you’re interested in being part of the Augustana Free Press, please email Connor Krammer at firstname.lastname@example.org.