April 22, 2014

Akron Beacon Journal | The Daily Kent Stater | When Journalism Fails

Faculty members from Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication took out an ad in student paper The Daily Kent Stater Tuesday to protest the university’s search for a new president. Officials destroyed documentation of the search, saying it had “turned over all records that are relevant,” Carol Biliczky reported in the Akron Beacon Journal earlier this month.

“We’re embarrassed by our administration’s refusal to disclose public records related to the recent presidential search,” the ad reads. “And we’re troubled over credible news reports that some of these records may have been shredded to avoid public inspection.”

Kent State’s decision to withhold these records may violate the Ohio Public Records Act. And though only a court of law can decide the legal issues, the administration’s decision to ignore the principles of transparency raises serious questions of ethics.

At the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, we instill in our students a reverence for open government and the right of a free press and public to engage in the oversight of government agencies. It is our duty to do this.

Kent State’s decision to withhold information about the presidential search teaches the wrong lesson to students. It also sends the wrong message to our friends, our alumni and Ohio taxpayers.

Kent State “signed a contract addendum giving its private search firm, Storbeck Pimentel and Associates of Media, Pa., the power to decide what records are released to the public,” the Beacon Journal reported. “As a result, when the Beacon Journal and other media asked for public records showing how the $250,000 in taxpayer and student tuition money was spent, the university deferred to Storbeck Pimentel, which declined to deliver documentation that normally would be available.”

“You can now appreciate the frustration with a culture of groupthink secrecy and evasion that would be comical if it were a black-and-white slapstick that didn’t implicate public dollars,” the Daily Kent Stater wrote in an editorial published Sunday. “How is Kent State’s search to be audited? How the hell do we know how they spent the money?”

“Although I’m embarrassed by and ashamed of my employer, a university that thumbs its nose at Ohio’s public records law, I’m proud of Kent State student journalists pushing for transparency and for holding university officials accountable,” Karl Idsvoog, who teaches in the j-school, writes in a blog post.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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