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The Generation Sack

Coup at UB publication foments rebellion

It’s good to know that the local tradition of questionable government action (or allegations thereof) and possible special treatment obtains in even its most lowest and most obscure offices.

A free and independent press, courtesy of the UB Politburo

Take, for example, last year’s board of directors for Sub-Board I, a nonprofit organization run by UB students, which is being scrutinized for its actions taken against one of SBI’s published magazines, Generation. This Tuesday, a forum headed by a committee of current SBI board members was held to look into the sudden suspension of Generation’s charter, which occurred in April, and the subsequent appointment of the magazine’s next editor-in-chief, Josh Boston, by the board. The magazine’s previous editors had been hired by staff vote.

What has happened to the magazine could only be described as a coup d’état, even if the members of the SBI board weren’t looking for such a changing of the guard. On April 3, the board motioned for the suspension of Generation’s charter, for the reason noted in the meeting’s minutes: “…so that the board may hire the next editor for the magazine rather than the magazine holding its own election.” The board’s move fomented a rebellion among the magazine’s staff, many of whom quit.

SBI choose its new editor by way of forming a committee to search for, interview, and recommend who they viewed as the most worthwhile candidate. It was made up by four SBI board members and one member of the jilted Generation staff, associate editor Michelle Mathews. This committee, with the exception of the outsider Mathews, recommended Josh Boston, who happens to be the roommate, close friend, and former colleague of one of the committee’s members—former SBI board vice president, Robert Pape.

Pape revealed this relationship prior to Boston’s interview, and Pape excused himself from the proceedings, admitting a clear conflict of interest. But the interview with Boston followed the framework of questions that Pape created. Each candidate had to define what journalistic ethics meant to them, and Mathews found it strange that, as she put it, “Josh came in with a textbook definition of ethics.” On Tuesday, when confronted with allegations of special treatment, both Boston and Pape sternly denied the accusations, reminding the forum that Pape had been quite open and preemptive about his bias, and that the decision for editor-in-chief was ultimately the entire board’s.

After he’d been appointed, Boston was given the responsibility of hiring staff, which he did without advertising positions, without contacting previous staff, and in little time, getting the task done between June and July. Advertising opportunities for university publication jobs are sparse in the summer, but not so much as a poster announcing the positions was made. “I wanted to choose people I knew and trusted,” Boston said.

Now, with the fall semester quickly approaching, Generation is coming back with a new editor-in-chief, a new charter, and an entirely new editing staff, with none of the nine paying positions being held by previous staff members.

Boston did not trust the previous staff in part because he’d discovered that former editor-in-chief Andrew Blake was looking to take legal action against SBI for how and why the board had suspended the charter. The reason SBI cited for its discontent with Generation was that the board members found certain satirical features, including the personal ads and “I’m Right, You’re Wrong,” to be offensive. Pape told the UB’s Spectrum newspaper, “Some Personals and ‘I’m Right, You’re Wrong’ pieces were offensive to women and to minorities. It was humiliating for SBI to publish that kind of content. We think students deserve better.”

When pressed in Tuesday’s forum to tell how many people were offended by Generation’s content, Pape said the Personals had prompted 10 or 15 complaints via email. UB has a student body of almost 30,000.

That’s a moot point, in any case, since no matter how offensive the board found the magazine’s shenanigans, SBI’s by-laws give Generation editorial autonomy. The board has no power to change the editorial content of Generation except in instance of libel, which was never the case. The suspension of the charter was a way to get around editorial autonomy by allowing the board more control over choosing the editor-in-chief. An amendment could have been made to the original charter, but any change would have needed a two-thirds agreement of the editorial board, and that would have been unlikely.

Very little, if any, notice of the plan to revoke the charter was given to Generation’s staff. Blake was invited to just two board meetings during his year of service, one being the meeting in which the charter was suspended. Blake says he didn’t attend that meeting because he was given only 48 hours notice and couldn’t clear his schedule, noting that the board made no mention that the magazine’s charter was in jeopardy. Some of last year’s board members admitted that they didn’t know either, two days prior, that they might suspend the charter.

The committee that hosted Tuesday’s forum will make a recommendation to SBI’s current board on whether or not any action should be taken on the new incarnation of Generation.

—geoffrey anstey

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