Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Campus Resident and the UNA's draft editorial policy


The Campus Resident (CR) has itself become a news story. Dissatisfaction with editorial decisions and the apparent lack of public clarity over whether UNA staff, UNA Directors, or the CR Editor are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day operational and editorial decisions at the paper have led to a series of complaints -public and private- over the past number of months.  These complaints have resulted in the drafting of an Editorial Policy that would create rules of operation and an Editorial Management Board charged with direct control over the paper's editorial content.

As matter of disclosure all items that I have submitted to the Editor prior to being a UNA Director and since becoming a UNA Director have been accepted for print.  At times my articles have been modestly edited and occasionally they have been delayed to a later edition of the paper.  So I am not commenting from a place where I feel in any way aggrieved against the operations of the press.  I would go further and commend the Editor for the job that he has done over the years of his Editorship.  The Campus Resident has been an exemplar of the community newspaper. If I had any criticism it would be that I wish the paper had more actual news stories and be published more frequently than monthly; but these are small criticisms indeed.


The discussion around the Editorial Policy brings to the forefront questions as to the role that a community newspaper should play. Should the paper only print articles that publicize the great things being done by the UNA?  Should it only focus on matters that foster a good feeling about our community?  Should outright dissent and disagreement with UNA or UBC policies be kept out of the paper?  Over the life of the paper all sorts of stories have been printed.  We get chatty pieces written by U Hill Secondary students, notes on sustainable living, theatre and arts reviews, general coverage of the UNA Directors meetings, and critical commentaries and critiques of UNA and UBC policy.  While I would like more news and more critiques I find the overall balance to work well enough.

So why do we need an elaborate and detailed Editorial Administration Policy at this point in time?  Why are we trying to fix a problem that doesn't appear to exist? I can't answer that; or at least, my answer is already framed in the way I ask the question.  I don’t think we need an elaborate editorial policy at this point in time.

I can see the value of an Editorial Board as long as that board is divorced from the day-to-day operations of the Campus Resident. Having high level oversight is a good idea.  Having a formalized review and censorship panel is a bit of an overkill. One way to avoid overkill is to keep the Editorial Board out of daily editorial decisions.  The other is to ensure that the board consists of elected officials and community members - not staff.

The composition of the board, if one is needed, should include the Editor, an elected UNA Director and a community member.  The draft policy has the UNA executive director on the board. It’s laudable, but how much can one person actually do?  Currently the Executive Director of the UNA manages the entire staff, attends all meetings of the UNA, prepares meeting notes, minutes, committee reports, and attends all manner of meetings with stakeholders, business partners, and government agencies as the leading employee of the UNA.  Adding hands on management of the Campus Resident will take the ED away from responsibilities more important and more directly germane to the reason the UNA has an executive director in the first place.  Furthermore, we have an elected Director with responsibilities as outlined in the bylaws of the UNA who is responsible for communications – the secretary.  Having community members on the board is a great idea.  Ideally we would have a community member appointed by the UNA Board who has some experience in the world of media – I am certain that there are at least one or two such folks living in our community.  Finally the Editor, who is the primary decision maker for the Campus Resident should be on any such editorial board.  This composition would ensure that community members, not staff are in a majority on the Board and that the appropriate degree of skill and responsibility is included on the board.

The Editorial Board, if we really need and want one, should not have any direct role in the daily editorial or operational decisions made by the Editor of the Campus Resident. If we don’t like the Editor’s decisions then the remedy should be replacement, not the establishment of a board to look over the Editor’s shoulder and study each minute decision made. To take such a heavy hand is a form of micromanagement that has no good end. While past complaints may have highlighted the role that staff have played in shaping and constraining the content of the CR, the current draft editorial policy actually formalizes that perceived problem and entrenches it as policy.

At the end of the day we need to ensure that the Campus Resident operates freely and fairly as a newspaper.  This means that sometimes some residents and some university officials and some UNA staff/directors won't like what is printed.  So be it.  That's a small price to pay to live in a democratic society.  There is more harm in fostering a micromanaging hands on Editorial Management Board then there is in allowing the Editor free range in his/her editorial decisions.  Ultimately, if we don't like the decisions the Editor makes then it is a matter of replacing the editor.  We shouldn't be creating yet another unnecessarily intrusive bureaucratic structure.

When it comes time to review and consider the draft editorial board policy I will be looking for ways to minimize the intrusive aspect of the policy so that a free and open press can be fostered in our community.

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For the record the following are my specific comments on the draft Editorial Board Policy.


General:  Should be Editorial Board, not Editorial Management Board.

Business manager.  The Editor should remain being called an Editor or, if people wish, a Managing Editor.  BUT not a Business Manager (though I note on the CR masthead it refers to the current editor as “The Editor and Business Manager.”  The draft policy is unclear as to whether these are two roles, two people, or one combined role.

The category of this policy seems misplaced.  First, this is a communications policy, not an administration policy.  Second, and unless all our policies are labeled corporate, I have an issue with calling our communications functions corporate policies.

3.14  to liaise with UBC public affairs.  This is unnecessary.  The presumption should be that he Editor will fact check.   This is covered under 3.1.

3.3 Encouraging the chair to publish.  Should be dropped.  Encouragement is non enforceable.  It’s like stating a wish.  If we want an official UNA statement each month then it should be published as a separate item so titled and published without a by line or with the byline UNA Board.

3.4 Fact and Opinion. This might be harder to do then the drafters of the policy anticipate.  For example, many of the articles are mixtures of ‘fact’ and ‘opinion,’ Consider, for example, the sustainability corner for example or the various reviews of performances, or the special series of articles on leasehold – these are all items that mesh fact and opinion of various sorts.  The way an article is written, while only citing ‘facts,’ can also be structured to present an opinion.  The ordering of quotes, the way the topic is presented, the use of adjectives, etc. all contribute to a point of view.  The na├»ve belief that there is in fact something that is unproblematicly a fact or that an article can be objective in any pure sense will result in more problems than solutions. If the point is to have an ‘opinion page’ with letters and editorials and ‘news section’ reporting on timely articles then say so.  But the distinction between objective and opinion is one that even our colleagues at the UBC School of Journalism recognize to be problematic in application.

3.5 on banning nasty comments. This is a standard clause and one that has a legal history and sets of precedents that will make it useful.  However, the “otherwise offensive to general community” phrase is way to general and should be deleted from this clause.

3.8 .5 ‘tone of article.’  Not sure how this will be operationalized. ‘Tone’ is such a subjective category that it opens the door wide to abuse unless very clearly defined.  Even then I can see a situation where when an editorial board member disagrees with the augment of a piece that they might suggest the tone is off and have the piece pulled.  This subclasue should be deleted.

3.11 editing for article length. There should be pragmatic article word lengths used.  Many of the articles published are far too long.  Having shorter pieces perhaps no longer than 500-750 words for features and leading news articles could accommodate more diversity (300-500 for less relevant pieces;  250 word cap for letters).  However, these ideas should be managed at the newspaper’s operations level and not by policy. 

6. Composition of the Editorial Board. (should not be called Editorial Management Board).

6.1 The Board should not have a majority of UNA staff as members (i.e. not both the Editor and the Executive Director).  While the ED can play a useful role in a non voting role, the oversight role should more properly fall to the elected directors and community representatives.

Also there is no provision for how the director/resident board member will be selected.  Also lacking is a term of office for the board members.

6.1 & 6.2 should be revised as follows: 
6.1 There shall an Editorial Board consisting of:
(1) the Editor,
(2) the Secretary of the UNA
(3) a UNA resident who is not a UNA Director or employee.

6.2 The UNA Board shall appoint the members of the Editorial Board, for one year terms. The governance standing committee will select the UNA resident Editorial Board member at the first meeting of the committee following the UNA Annual General.

6.8 (2) headlines should be an editorial matter and not the matter of the editorial board. 

Final comment: As it is structured this policy invites micromanagement.  Having an explicit policy allowing changes to individual headlines goes beyond invitation to mandating micro management.  Ideally the press should be reasonably free of the constraint by officials, advertisers, and other vested interests to pursue a free and unencumbered line of inquiry and journalistic integrity.  If we want a PR sheet then we need to change the model.  If we are wishing to encourage actual local journalism and to foster a diversity of perspectives then we should not be creating a board of micro managers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Parking Issues Again in Front of the UNA Board

Parking issues were again in front of the UNA Board on March 12, 2013.  Again the solution proposed and implemented was one that targets residents as the problem.  The solution?  use financial instruments as a coercive force to limit and restrict resident parking.  Wonderful idea if residents are in fact the source of our parking woes.  But we are not the problem here.

The real issue of parking is how to regulates the parking that takes place outside of the current restricted hours.

Some directors and some UNA/UBC staff argue that we have a responsibility to reduce our use of cars.  That's a laudable goal if resident cars are the course of the world's problems.   They're not; at least not all of them. The university sells it's large scale development plans by claiming to reduce resident traffic on and off campus yet simultaneously increases the destination attractions of campus - the Thunderbird Fields developments and the commercialization and marketing of Westbrook Village as a regional destination (check their web page) - 

 
It's nice to be the lab rats in a living laboratory -sometimes. But there does comes a time when the animals in the lab have to stand up and say enough is enough.  It seems to me that we've come to that point in time and the university's use of residents as a laboratory has to change.

What I have seen over more than a decade of living in Hawthorn Place is that by and large parking is not a consistent problem or concern.  In the aggregate there is sufficient on-street and underground parking to accommodate all resident parking needs. The real and significant parking problems are all external to the resident community.

The parking problems can be thought of as  - (1) external to resident parking pressure and (2) problems that arise as a consequence of our attempts to regulate parking.

(1) external to resident parking pressure arises from two general sources – (a) regular users of the campus who do not currently live on campus (b) destination traffic (recurrent community sports use, recurrent use of commercial centres, special sports or entertainment events).  UBC has done a decent job regulating and controlling special event traffic issues.  The problems here arises from the recurrent users of areas like Thunderbird fields and the arena. Very likely modest changes to the restricted parking hours can deal with the recurrent weekend users of the fields.  One thing that athletics might do is to charge community user groups (kids soccer) a parking surcharge that would be paid to the UNA to assist with our parking regulation.  At the moment, allowing spill over parking into Hawthorn and/or Hampton (and now into the UHS parking lot) externalizes a cost and transfers it to our community.  This cost of parking regulation is rightly part of the costs of operation of the athletics fields.  Currently, though we are absorbing it and paying a per capita fee to Athletics to boot.

(2) Our own parking regulations create their own unintended consequences.  Some individuals are attempting to resell parking passes and thus capitalizing upon our system and contributing to undermining it.  This is a combination between a failure on our community’s part to inculcate a sense of social connection and a dominant cultural idea of our society that an individual has a right to profit from anything.  In combination it undermines the social well being to enhance an individual’s personal benefit.  But, that is what market capitalism is all about – self interest.

I tend to think, and the observations that I have made over more than a decade tend to suggest (which sometimes have involved detailed recording of vehicle license plates and parking frequency etc), that the serious problem for parking comes from the external parking pressure and that by in large there is sufficient surplus space to accommodate resident parking. Yet, all of our plans for parking have focused upon regulating residents and placing the costs and expenses onto residents.  This is a double taxation in several senses.  First, we are already paying taxes to BC and UBC.  Second we are having to pay a fee to the UNA.  Third, we are paying the parking costs for the commercial activities of UBC Athletics and the  Wesbrook Village (UBCPT) merchants.

We really need to find a way to attend to the actual cause of our parking problems, not target residents as the easiest way out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tweeting the March 2013 UNA Board meeting

Here are my tweets from the March 12, 2013 UNA Board meeting.  Please remember - these are tweets (not corrected for spelling, grammar, etc) and are my own personal comments!  Enjoy :)  

Oh, to read in order of tweet, scroll to the bottom and read up.

Tweets

  1. Nicely tweeted See you next time :)
  2. Meeting adjourns with the announcement of Shaohong Wu's resignation from the board due to moving off campus.
  3. UNA Board member Shaohong Wu is leaving in April to move to Richmond
  4. Discussion of traffic management plans in relation to UHS. 1 suggestion would be to anchor upturned tricycles in the middle of the street.
  5. Great afternoon run with Anth RUnning Club at 3pm today - 9km @ 5:30min/km ave pace. No rain, good conversations.
  6. Majority of board vote to double tax residents in Hawthorn Place. Residents now must pay for visitor permit. I voted against the fees.
  7. Motion carries with one vote against
  8. UNA will now charge an escalating 10 month renewable fee for on-street parking. 40 1st car, 80 2nd car, 160 3rd car per legal suite.
  9. Parking fees approved with one vote against - guess who )
  10. However, the UBC led developments are the cause. Rather than eternalizing the cost of development, UBC should absorb the costs.
  11. Knight says should Hawthorn used to be a parking lot; we should look forward instead to solutions not try to find cause to problem.
  12. Knight suggests my comment on double taxation incorrect and UBC has not created the problem.
  13. Frank says parking is subsidized and shouldn't be.
  14. Parking issues are really being caused by UBC development and self-centred greenwash campaign.
  15. Menzies says UNA residents already pay too much in taxes and shouldn't have to pay for street parking.
  16. Double taxation now taking place. Fees for parking are not appropriate.
  17. Now a motion to approve fees to park on the street in UNA neighbourhoods
  18. Parking proposal with fees now up for discussion.
  19. Proposal to rename a unnamed lane in honour of the late Bruce Todd and so recommend to the UBC naming committee.
  20. not recording seconder,. Mover is recorded unless concern over safety of mover.
  21. Now, a motion on UNA record keeping. Changes include destroying voice recordings of meetings after minutes are approved.
  22. Harris engages in a tete a tete with Frank - report going a bit off track. Maybe that part would be better in the cafe later over coffee.
  23. Maria Harris giving her electoral area A report - focus on rapid transit issues.
  24. Wall of skyscrappers rising along Pacific Spirit Park @ UBC
  25. C&CP moves 2ward Manhattanization ubc with Lot 6 permit development which will put 22 stories into the air alongside Pacific Spirit Pk
  26. Margaret Eckenfelder, UBC-C&CP presenting now.
  27. Speakers finished and now moving back to agenda. If more speakers turn up at 6:30 we'll hear them as well.
  28. Round points (round abouts) are in fact safer than regular four way intersections.
  29. The Hampton Place resident says increased traffic would create too much noise and make pedestrian crossings more dangerous.
  30. Griffiths asks board to stop highway developments - but UNA can't do anythig; it's . Note: round points are safer.
  31. Parking and traffic is a big concern with UBC's massive ramping up of density in south campus . money B4 safety?
  32. Griffith is shocked by the proposed crossing at the four lane highway!
  33. Cathy Griffiths speaking about pedestrian controlled crosswalk & road at 16th across from Hampton Place
  34. Pritchard concludes that parking decal charge denies the original concepts for the area..
  35. Up first, a UNA resident addresses the board about parking on campus.
  36. Pritchard states inconsistent in parking planning; parking plan is a reduction of resident benefits.
  37. Pritchard notes the ongoing reduction of resident parking in UNA area & ill effect of UBC Athletics ramping up of their facilities
  38. We're at tonight's meeting.
  39. Chair allows Mr Pritchard to speak to the meeting about proposed parking management plan
  40. Fred Pritchard stands up from floor to ask that delegates be allowed to speak before the meeting, not toward the end of meeting
  41. Tweeting from the monthly board meeting today @