By:
December 18, 2020

UPDATE (Friday, Dec. 18, 3:55 p.m.): A group of Washington Square News alumni announced Friday they have set up a committee to help revive the paper, which has not published a story since Sept. 30. The team of nine alumni have started a “preliminary review” of the events leading up to the mass resignation and are recruiting a new editor-in-chief in the hopes of restarting publication next year. Two alumni will also serve on the WSN board of directors, replacing two NYU professors. 

The president of the College Media Association resigned from her post at the organization Dec. 11, two months after the staff of the college paper she was advising walked out.

Kenna Griffin, who was serving a two-year volunteer term as CMA president, had been advising the NYU student paper Washington Square News for six weeks when nearly all of the staffers walked out, publishing an editorial alleging a hostile work environment.

The editorial, posted Sept. 28, contains a list of 22 grievances with Griffin including allegations that she had used transphobic “rhetoric” and demonstrated racial insensitivity. Forty-three students, including the paper’s managing editor, signed the letter calling for Griffin to resign from her position as adviser. The paper has not published a news story since.

Griffin, who is still employed by NYU, denied the allegations “as they are represented” in the editorial. An investigation by the NYU student radio station into the grievances was only able to verify five of the 22.

Though the CMA — a professional organization for college media advisers — opened an investigation into the allegations, the CMA board suspended the probe after two weeks, citing a lack of resources and a concern over “legal liability.” The board voted Oct. 16 in a 3-1 decision not to ask Griffin to resign.

That changed last week when the board received a letter demanding Griffin’s resignation, which was signed by 14 CMA members, including six past presidents. The letter argued that the NYU incident had “tarnished” CMA’s reputation and that the organization appeared to be “regressing.” The next day, the board asked for Griffin’s resignation, which she later announced via an email to the organization’s listserv.

In a statement to members Dec. 12, the CMA board wrote that at least two professional media organizations had provided “clear indications” they would not partner with CMA due to the allegations against Griffin. Some members had started to question their affiliation with the group, and others had already vowed to cancel their membership, the board wrote.

“We began to see the allegations that were damaging Kenna’s personal reputation were also causing harm to CMA. We had to be concerned with the latter in our role as leaders in CMA,” the statement reads.

CMA board members  — of which Griffin had been one — normally serve two years as volunteers. Griffin’s term was set to expire October 2021. Instead, President-elect Chris Whitley took her place as president Tuesday.

Griffin wrote in an emailed statement to Poynter that since the Sept. 28 walkout, she has been in constant communication with the board and other CMA members about the situation at NYU. She had offered to answer questions and had participated in the failed October investigation.

“I told the board when the WSN situation occurred that I would step down at any point if they thought it was necessary. So, when they asked, I stayed true to my word,” Griffin wrote in her statement to Poynter. “CMA is a volunteer organization that I’ve spent many hours serving since I joined back in 2003 or 2004. I have no interest in volunteering my time, energy and expertise where it’s not wanted or appreciated.”

The CMA Board declined to comment beyond the statement to members released Dec. 12.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Angela Fu is a freelance reporter based in Birmingham, Ala. and a contributor to Poynter.org. She can be reached at angelafu7@gmail.com or on Twitter @angelanfu.
More by Angela Fu

More News

Back to News