The Bulletin has been the voice of Emporia State University students since 1901. Now, its future appears uncertain.
Following the dismissal of 33 faculty members at ESU under the workforce management framework, the English, Modern Languages and Journalism program was left reeling. Mel Storm, program chair, confirmed that the following tracks have been suspended:
- Bachelor of Arts in English
- Graduate certificate in English
- Master of Arts in English
- Bachelor of Science in Journalism Education
- Graduate licensure in Journalism Education
- Journalism minor
- French, German and Latin American studies minors
- All non-Spanish language courses
The department also suffered five terminations, Storm confirmed, including its only journalism professor, Max McCoy.
Noah Eppens, the editor of The Bulletin, said they are unsure about what that could mean for the future of the century-old paper.
“That’s where we are a little scared,” Eppens said. “There is a possibility that it could be … defunded or anything under the restructuring of the university. Especially with the coverage that we’ve been doing. It’s not very great PR for the university right now.”
Eppens said without the journalism department, The Bulletin will not be the same.
“It will also just be sad and tragic,” they said. “We have been the students’ voice since 1901.”
But while the paper’s future is murky, Bulletin staff members are working hard to make sure the coverage of ESU and the workforce management framework remains clear for its readers.
The Bulletin staff is made up of students from all kinds of majors, undergraduate and graduate alike. Eppens has been editor of the ESU Bulletin since last spring, starting at The Bulletin last fall after taking journalism classes with McCoy.
Eppens said the staff has stepped up in the past few weeks, working long hours to keep students informed.
“Sam Bailey and Cameron Burnett have been amazing. It was us three covering stuff that was happening at the Earl Center, where they were dismissing faculty, and then we were covering the protests that were happening,” they said. “Our other staff writers have stepped up, and our other editors, and they have stepped up and covered events, sometimes pretty last minute.”
The majority of the staff did not have journalistic experience prior to joining The Bulletin, Eppens added, or taking classes from McCoy — who Eppens credits with The Bulletin’s ability to produce the reporting it has during the past few weeks.
One hurdle for the student reporters was to avoid conflicts of interest — an especially hard task, as McCoy was one of the 33.
“He is obviously very affected by this. He was one of the 33 that were dismissed, and so we wanted to be careful with our conflict of interest,” Eppens said. “I mean, we are obviously going to have a little bit, because we are students who are being affected by this, especially since our journalism professor and our advisor is one of the people who have been terminated.”
“He’s also an activist,” they added. “He’s been talking to media outlets and working with the other faculty and staff so to have him advise the paper would be some very obvious bias.”
To avoid any crossover, McCoy has recused himself from advising The Bulletin on the matter.
“We haven’t been left in the dust or anything. Sarah Spicer — who is another alum — who works for The [Committee] to Protect Journalists, she’s been helping us via phone calls from New York,” Eppens said.
Additionally, Sherman Smith from the Kansas Reflector — another Bulletin alum — stopped by to give the reporters some advice.
“He came in [recently] and worked in the office with us and he was kind of walking us through this,” Eppens said.
The biggest piece of advice from Smith — there are multiple sources you can use to tell the story.
That advice has been particularly helpful for The Bulletin, as they have recently had trouble receiving comments from ESU administration, Eppens said.
In August, The Bulletin ran an article about a comment ESU President Ken Hush made about the closing and demolition of the Butcher Early Childhood Education Center.
“President Hush hasn’t granted us any interviews since we ran the story about his ‘I laugh’ comment,” Eppens said.
The apparent shut-out has put the student newspaper at a disadvantage since the very beginning of the framework’s announcement.
On Sept. 6, The Emporia Gazette was invited to an embargoed interview with other local media to discuss the framework, with the promise to keep the information proprietary until 4 p.m. Sept. 7. The Bulletin was not invited.
“We found out when everyone else did. We saw the email. It was actually a print production night so we were trying to put our whole paper together and then we got this email throwing it all into the air,” Eppens said. “We looked through everything and immediately sent reporters off to figure out what was going on. We waited outside the president’s office for a comment because he hadn’t been accepting interviews with us, but had just dropped this really big news.”
According to Eppens, Hush denied comment.
“Gwen Larson, from Media Relations, had told us that we were burning bridges when we talked to her outside of the president’s office,” Eppens added.
Eppens said the shut-out has affected even positive stories, such as a piece on student wage increases, which Hush has also denied comment on.
“I can’t say what’s going on his mind and why exactly he gave an embargoed interview to the other two media outlets and not the student paper, of which it would be most affecting,” Eppens said, though they admitted it may have something to do with the piece about the “I laugh” comment.
The lack of answers from administrators has affected the way The Bulletin has been able to tell its stories — and has prompted the staff to get creative.
“It’s been frustrating and a little annoying but we have been able to get answers elsewhere for the most part, and there are other voices that we can use,” Eppens said. “As upset as we are about what’s happening and with our mentor and advisor being terminated, we still give [administrators] a voice. We still give them a chance. We ask for comment every time.”
In addition to the effort of upholding journalistic standards, the framework coverage has also taken a personal toll, Eppens said.
“When I found out that Max was being dismissed, I was on my way back to the office from the Earl Center to publish the story with the numbers,” they shared. “I only had like a minute to process it, and then I had to go back to work.”
“It’s definitely been difficult and exhausting. I think this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life, is cover this, as a student but also as a reporter,” Eppens added. “My school work has slacked a little bit. I won’t lie. But this is definitely very important coverage.”
The student newspaper is ground zero, Eppens said.
“We were the only ones with numbers from the departments because the university itself isn’t releasing those, so it’s definitely important work, and it’s worth it,” they said. “It’s just exhausting.”
Gwen Larson, ESU director of media relations, said she is not able to comment “on anything connected with Emporia State’s journalism program,” including the future of The Bulletin.
Eppens said they are doing what they can to make sure they are not the last editor of The Bulletin.
“I am battening the hatches so to speak, and I have been talking to people who can help us and offer their support,” Eppens said. “It really is up in the air for ... The Bulletin.”