We, the undersigned WSN Fall 2020 Editorial Staff, have collectively decided to resign from Washington Square News, effective immediately. This was extensively deliberated in collaboration with 43 staff editors, and it was not a decision we enjoyed making. However, we understand that continuing to work at WSN in our current circumstance would do more harm than good, and we refuse to condone what we have seen over the past three weeks.
Three weeks ago, our Editor-in-Chief was fired without warning to the rest of the staff. His termination was the result of a new editorial advisor, Dr. Kenna Griffin, who joined WSN’s staff. We are aware that she is employed by the university and that she is not a member of our publications board. Dr. Griffin’s relationship to WSN and the amount of power she held was never clarified. Though she initially claimed that she would include the managing staff in the process of defining her role, she has yet to follow through with that promise.
Since Dr. Griffin was hired, WSN has faced numerous challenges in publication and cohesion. Dr. Griffin was increasingly rude and disrespectful to the staff, despite being repeatedly reminded that her words had a negative effect on staff morale. Dr. Griffin was unnecessarily harsh, and when confronted about her behavior, would defend it by arguing that WSN’s staff is too immature to accept critique. Her feedback was often negative, even when we followed her instructions, and was almost always personal. She defended this behavior by arguing that she was unable to accomplish anything without WSN implementing her instructions. This is untrue; WSN has implemented her advice on multiple occasions.
WSN has been operating in a state of uncertainty and distress since our EIC was fired. WSN’s publications board, 50% of which is composed of NYU journalism professors, has yet to name a successor. This means that WSN has operated without an EIC for three weeks and has still been expected to perform as well — on some occasions better — than we have in the past. We cannot continue to do business as usual without a leader and when we are afraid of retribution. Dr. Griffin stated multiple times that no one else on staff would be fired, but most staff members did not believe her, as she had recently fired our EIC with no sufficient explanation.
Operating without an EIC also means that WSN has continued to publish without editorial representation on our publications board, as the EIC is the only student member of the board from WSN’s editorial side. This has left us to trust that Dr. Griffin, who is not a member of the publications board but holds considerable influence over it, will accurately portray us to the board and will act in our best interests. However, this has proven to not be the case, as Dr. Griffin has been asked repeatedly to soften language when critique is involved and has refused each time. This made it very difficult to accept her criticism, as well as to function normally with the new factor of fear of Dr. Griffin. This led to a vicious cycle in which we could not please Dr. Griffin and so she would lash out at us, which in turn would lead us to produce poorer work which did not help.
After WSN published an article about protests related to the murder of Breonna Taylor and the Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to charge her killers, Dr. Griffin displayed an increasing disrespect to WSN’s Black staff members, leading to one staff member choosing to speak out and accuse Dr. Griffin of intolerance. Dr. Griffin took this criticism poorly — she defended herself arguing that there was no proof of her racism, and demanded to speak with a Black student before admitting guilt, which she still has not done. Dr. Griffin suggested that the Black student write an op-ed explaining her feelings about Taylor’s murder. We are not comfortable continuing to work in an environment that trivializes Black voices when they speak up and then uses them for personal gain. This was the straw that broke the collective camel’s back.
Incidents of Dr. Griffin’s behavior include but are not limited to:
- Belittled the entire staff, with inappropriate behavior for an editorial advisor to students in a way definitely not how a professional should speak to other young professionals.
- Repeatedly stated that anyone offended by her words was simply being sensitive and implied that if someone is offended by her statements, they should not be a journalist.
- Pressured an editor to reveal their “real name” after the editor disclosed their non-cisgender gender identity. This is transphobic rhetoric and behavior.
- Criticized Opinion article disclaimers, calling them unnecessary and incorrect. Opinion article disclaimers are necessary for legal purposes.
- Demanded stories and content without regard to reporters’ personal safety at protests and students’ time and responsibilities beyond WSN, and demanded articles on our rest days.
- Stated that if staff did not meet with her one-on-one individually, following the EIC’s termination, she would understand that we would not want to continue working for WSN. Did not respond to emails and other attempts to schedule meetings for weeks.
- Our Managing Editor assumed the responsibilities of EIC and Managing Editor without the title or power, despite asking for formal recognition.
- Refused to concede that people interviewed and photographed would want to be anonymous for safety reasons.
- Dismissed trigger warnings on articles on sexual assault and marked them unnecessary.
- Mentioned inappropriate and confidential information about staff members’ personal lives.
- Stated that racism is a matter of subjectivity.
- Violated the WSN Constitution multiple times including several instances in which she attempted to merge the business and editorial sections of WSN.
- An editor stood up to Dr. Griffin’s demands and refused to edit out the word “murder” from our article about Breonna Taylor’s murder at the hands of Louisville cops. Dr. Griffin demanded the Managing Editor discipline them, as she “didn’t want to have a full deal publicly.”
- Spoke terribly about our previous EIC to every other editor immediately after he was fired and asked leading questions, presumably to find justification for firing him.
- Lied about events and people’s actions and characters to different editors.
- Minimized an Opinion Editor’s role and pieces and did not include them in discussions about the Opinion section. Disclosed that she only wanted one Opinion Editor.
- Demanded our organization “professionalize.” Dr. Griffin messaged editors to reprimand them for profanity used in intra-staff conversations despite regularly swearing in personal calls against staff.
- Categorized ‘Under the Arch’, WSN’s magazine, as a money maker. Attempted to demand ‘UTA’ cater to business needs to create content, directly violating the WSN Constitution.
- Criticized our News Desk for using emails or text interviews and NYU statements, despite that practice being part of journalism standards.
- Blamed WSN for NYU institutions refusing to talk to us.
- Corrected our use of “spokesperson” to “spokesman,” ignoring the need for gender-neutral language in reporting, mandatory for the paper and outlined in one of our guides.
- Boasted about improving our coverage online when she had no involvement with the articles she boasted about.
Our demands are as follows:
- Dr. Kenna Griffin must resign immediately.
- Each semester, the editorial staff must be introduced to the publications board and its members in order to ensure transparency; the capabilities and the importance of the board’s existence must be discussed.
- WSN should not be labeled as an “independent” news publication, as it is intertwined with the Journalism department and its very existence depends on the emotional and financial support of the university.
- Issue a revision of WSN’s Constitution in order to ensure that an EIC cannot be fired by the publications board or anyone else without the editorial staff’s democratic vote on the matter.
- All of WSN’s finances — including but not limited to money received from the university and how this money is distributed to the staff, including budget overages and shortages — must be disclosed to the entire staff and will be available to anybody upon request.
- Frequent interactions between senior management and desk editors, and the publications board. The board should be ready to offer feedback and advice. Management should meet with the board twice a month. Desk editors should meet with the board once a month.
- WSN’s editorial advisor must have previous knowledge of NYU, NYU’s environment and WSN’s production process and operation. It is preferred for an editorial advisor to have had a connection with either WSN or NYU or both.
- Ensure student journalists’ safety, physically and mentally — provide students with reporting safety training and equipment. Communicate to student journalists that if they decide to cover a story, they will be provided with a media pass and personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Under no circumstances should WSN be left without an EIC or an interim EIC on staff. Our EIC represents us on the board and serves as a member. If we are left without an EIC, we are left without representation on the publications board.
- The editorial advisor’s abilities must be disclosed to all editorial staff when introduced/hired and there must be demarcated boundaries for their powers, including firing.
- All the editorial advisor’s decisions are subject to discussion and vote by editorial staff.
- The editorial advisor role needs to be filled with an active journalist to ensure familiarity with the current media field and the environment within it.
- The editorial advisor must be employed by WSN, not NYU’s Journalism Department, and paid with WSN’s revenue.
- Business or advertisement must not influence production decisions to ensure quality journalism without financial bias.
- Communication, including critique and feedback on platforms such as Slack from the editorial advisor needs to be individually expressed. This form of communication centers a focus on who needs the critique, rather than informing the entire staff.
WSN, at its core, is not a racist publication. We have worked hard to make WSN the safe and loving environment for staff that we know it to be. Dr. Griffin’s actions counteract WSN’s core values, and the lack of discipline on behalf of the board and the university indicate that as long as Dr. Griffin serves as WSN’s editorial advisor, they will continue to remain as intolerant as she is.
We know that, as its staff, we have WSN’s best interests at heart, but we cannot guarantee the same about the publications board. As long as the board holds more power over WSN than its editors, we are not comfortable staying on staff.
We would be happy to return to WSN, but only if Dr. Griffin no longer serves as our editorial advisor. If she does not resign, our resignation will be permanent.
We do not want to put NYU’s community in a position in which it is not receiving the best and most frequent communications from its student publication. We are not happy about the decision we have made, and we regret not being able to provide the NYU community with the coverage it deserves. As a result, we encourage you to read and follow NYU Local, which is not affiliated with NYU in any manner. Until Dr. Griffin no longer works at NYU, we cannot trust that WSN will be the environment that we know it to be. We strongly discourage supporting or joining WSN as long as Dr. Griffin serves as its editorial advisor.
This newspaper has been a home to all of us for years, and we love it deeply. We are choosing to leave because of how much we love it — we fear that if we do not leave, WSN will never find the incentive to improve.
Abby Hofstetter, Managing Editor
Alexandria Johnson, Deputy Managing Editor
Jun Sung, Deputy Managing Editor
Ethan Zack, Deputy Managing Editor
Mandie Montes, Under the Arch Managing Editor
Finley (Anna-Dmitry) Muratova, Under the Arch Managing Editor
Deborah Alalade, Creative Director
Charlie Dodge, Creative Director
Alexandra Chan, Multimedia Editor
Bella Gil, Culture Editor
Sasha Cohen, Arts Editor
Kaylee DeFreitas, Arts Editor
Emily Dai, Opinion Editor
Helen Wajda, Opinion Editor
Kevin Ryu, Sports Editor
Caitlin Hsu, Under the Arch Senior Editor
Nicole Chiarella, Copy Chief
Kimberly Rice, Copy Chief
Vanessa Handy, Social Media Editor
Roshni Raj, Deputy News Editor
Aarushi Sharma, Deputy News Editor
Dana Sun, Deputy Culture Editor
Divya Nelakonda, Beauty & Style Editor
Paul Kim, Dining Editor
Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Film Editor
Ana Cubas, Music Editor
Bianca de Ayala, Deputy Opinion Editor
Kevin Kurian, Deputy Opinion Editor
Asha Ramachandran, Deputy Opinion Editor
Sammy Tavassoli, Deputy Under the Arch Editor
Vaishnavi Naidu, Deputy Under the Arch Editor
Li-Chun Pan, Photo Editor
Leo Sheingate, Video Editor
Manasa Gudavalli, Deputy Multimedia Editor
Talia Rose Barton, Deputy Photo Editor
Alex Tran, Deputy Video Editor
Destine Manson, Deputy Copy Chief
Katrina Morgan, Deputy Social Media Editor
Jake Capriotti, Under the Arch Multimedia Editor
Chelsea Li, Under the Arch Deputy Multimedia Editor
Celia Tewey, Under The Arch Exposures Editor
Jessica Fiorella, Under the Arch Voices Editor
Ashley Wu, Editor-at-Large
This article was last updated on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, 2:13 p.m.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 e-print edition. Email WSN’s Staff at [email protected]