The staff of the UA student newspaper, the Arizona Daily Wildcat, could use a nice holiday break after a semester marred by a huge rift in the newsroom.
The discontent came to a head—although those involved say conflict had been brewing for some time—after managing editor Shain Bergan was cited for disorderly conduct during ESPN College GameDay festivities prior to the UA's Nov. 21 home football game with Oregon.
Bergan was upset with the paper's handling of the misdemeanor, according to editor-in-chief Alex Dalenberg.
"After the incident at College GameDay, I suspended Shain for five issues. I felt that was appropriate punishment," said Dalenberg via e-mail. "We also decided to run a story on the incident, because Shain was a public figure at a public event the Wildcat was covering. However, even after Shain left for the day, he insisted on dictating how the newspaper published the story about himself. Shain continued to make phone calls and send text messages, some of them laced with profanity, making specific demands about how the story be run. For example, he demanded we run an unedited personal statement regarding the arrest, and also demanded that we not run his 'fucking' mug shot. Shain threatened to resign if we didn't fulfill his demands.
"I felt this was completely out of line, especially with Shain already on thin ice. First off, you don't talk to your boss that way, especially when you're being disciplined. Second, it's completely inappropriate, as an editor, to insert yourself into the editing and presentation of a story that's about you personally. At this point, I felt I had no choice but to ask for Shain's resignation."
Bergan's version of the events is a bit different.
"I was suspended on a Monday," said Bergan via e-mail. "That night, I got a tip from a colleague in the newsroom that not only was Alex not going to run my statement that he told me he would run, but he was considering putting my headshot in the paper, along with quotes taken out of context from my statement and the police report. I immediately texted Alex asking why he was doing this and (was) not running my statement."
Bergan said that Dalenberg then called his cell phone, "and this is what was said verbatim":
Alex: Shain, you're done. You can't dictate your own story from outside the newsroom.
Shain: What are you talking about?
Alex: No, that's it! I'm fucking done with you! You can either resign right now, or you're fired!
Shain: Are you fucking kidding me?!
Shain: Then I resign.
Shain: Fuck you.
Bergan said the misdemeanor—to which he will plead not guilty, adding that he expects to be exonerated—offered Dalenberg an opportunity to nix a plan Bergan had for a next-semester restructuring of a paper he thought had suffered under Dalenberg.
"The whole semester, it's been poor quality, leadership-wise," Bergan said. "... There are a lot of weird, little loose ends, but at the time, it was like, 'Well, we like Alex; he's trying hard,' but by the middle of the semester, he started dating the design chief and giving her preferential treatment. That's when we started to realize this is getting serious and ridiculous. He gave her a raise. She was making $50 a day and was only there for a few hours a day, while we're busting our ass all the time for $28 a day."
Dalenberg's financials are different. He says he increased the pay of three editors: Web director Bryan Roy (from $40 to $45), the aforementioned design chief, Marisa Fisher (from $40 to $50, a raise he says was approved by faculty adviser Mark Woodhams), and Bergan, whose pay was bumped to $50 per issue.
Dalenberg explained Fisher's raise via e-mail: "(S)he had the responsibility to put the paper to bed every night. Also, on more than one occasion, Woodhams suggested I increase Marisa's pay, or give her a bonus, because of the extra time she put in around the office. Designers work long, late hours. Marisa was a hard worker who never took a personal day all semester. ... She earned her pay every bit as much as Shain and Bryan Roy did."
Woodhams said, regarding Fisher, the "salary received was within the parameters of the duties performed."
Woodhams also said he wishes that Bergan would have gone through the Wildcat's grievance process rather than airing dirty laundry after the fact.
Bergan said the grievance process carried a risk.
"We feared that if ousting Alex didn't work, he would fire us, and we would be out of a job," said Bergan via e-mail. "This semester, two factions (on the executive board) were created—one in favor of Alex, the other not. So we were also afraid that getting rid of Alex wouldn't really solve the problem, because there would still be several other executive board members sympathetic of Alex. Such people could be difficult to work with on a professional level moving forward, and we would have to ask ourselves what was being done by pushing Alex out and whether that would really have an impact, especially so far into the semester.
"You can already see the damage of the failing of our plan to fix the paper. ... Look at all the people who are not coming back either as editors or altogether."
Bergan went on to list eight prominent staffers who he said were leaving the Wildcat.
Dalenberg's semester as editor is finished; meanwhile, Bergan has joined the desertlamp.com Web site and created his own blog, thewatchcat.org. Lance Madden will take over as the new Wildcat editor-in-chief in January.
The Wildcat isn't exactly unfamiliar with turmoil. Bergan was himself part of a board removal of an editor.
Are the recent semester's quarrels petty? Perhaps. Are they just par for the course? Probably.
"The paper moves on," Woodhams said in an e-mail. "In the scope of things, this is one of the most minor staff flaps ever."
Woodhams said that such is life at a campus publication: "There is never a dull moment on a student newspaper. There's always going to be something."