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Originally published Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 7:40 PM

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Ore. student journalists strike over independence

A former Northwest newspaper editor has withdrawn his offer to act as temporary publisher of the student newspaper at the University of Oregon after the paper's journalists said his reorganization plan would jeopardize their independence and went on strike.

Associated Press Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. —

A former Northwest newspaper editor has withdrawn his offer to act as temporary publisher of the student newspaper at the University of Oregon after the paper's journalists said his reorganization plan would jeopardize their independence and went on strike.

"This fight will go on without me," wrote Steven A. Smith, former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., in a blog posting Wednesday.

His withdrawal does not end the dispute between the journalists and the board overseeing the Oregon Daily Emerald, published Monday through Friday on the Eugene campus by a nonprofit corporation set up to make the paper independent of the university and its journalism school.

Those on both sides of the dispute say the Emerald is ailing financially, exhausting its reserves, and drastic changes are needed.

Smith, also a former editor of The Statesman Journal in Salem, said he agrees with the journalists on protecting the campus newspaper's independence.

"The principle they're fighting for is just as important to me as it is to them," Smith said in an interview.

Emerald editors say they're not objecting to Smith, who resigned from The Spokesman-Review in October as the paper slashed the staff.

"This is not about Steve Smith," Daily Emerald Editor in Chief Ashley Chase told The Register-Guard of Eugene. "This is about the future of the Daily Emerald as an independent, student-run news organization."

The strike began Wednesday. The two sides planned to meet on Thursday, said News Editor Robert D'Andrea.

Board members are appointed from several constituencies, including the paper's non-student business staff, the community at large and sectors of the university. Several either refused to speak on the record or failed to respond for requests for comment.

In November, the board recruited Smith as a consultant to help the Daily Emerald chart its future. A plan he drafted called for hiring a publisher on a five-year contract. The paper is now operated by a general manager - a job Smith said has been vacant since June - and the student editor as co-equals.

Smith said he declined a suggestion from the board chairman to take on the publisher's job, saying the board would eventually want to conduct a national search and that his own career plan didn't include a long stay at the Emerald. But he said he would do it for a year.

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The student journalists objected to the $80,000 offer to Smith and to his hope to teach at the same time at the university's School of Journalism and Communication. The dual roles would jeopardize the paper's ability to report on the university, they said.

The student journalists are not opposed to hiring a publisher. But they insist the publisher and the student editor have equal stature.

Chase and the paper's managing editor, Allie Grasgreen, wrote on the newspaper's Web site on Wednesday that unless the Daily Emerald makes dramatic changes, such as creating a multimedia operation, "the Emerald may have to close its doors within the next few years."

"However, they added, "the newsroom is not willing to sacrifice student control and editorial independence of the Emerald, nor the integrity of the organization, in the process."

Smith said the publisher job he outlined wouldn't intrude on the journalists' independence - making decisions, for example, about the size of the paper day to day but not determining what the journalists chose to put in the paper.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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