Christopher Bugbee, the Cal State Fullerton spokesman under fire for, among other things, denying reporters’ access to administration officials, has apparently been ousted as the main media contact for the Daily Titan student newspaper.
“In a meeting Thursday, Vice President for University Advancement Greg Saks said a new person henceforth will be working with the Daily Titan,” the Daily Titan reported. “It is not clear at this time who that new person will be or if the change will apply to all media outlets.”
The change follows an April 23 Titan editorial that challenged university administrators to fix years of problems journalism students encountered trying to get information from the administration.
Reporters at both Voice of OC and the OC Weekly also have experienced stonewalling by Bugbee, who has been at CSUF since 2007 and has the official title of director of news-media services and social-media engagement.
At their Thursday meeting student journalism leaders handed administration public relations executives a list of 15 issues they said should be fixed to cut transparency problems and improve the education of journalism and public relations majors.
(Click here for the issues list.)
The list ranged from opening reporters’ access to administration officials and the university’s official committees and their actions to creating a new system where the school’s media team helps train staff how to work with journalists and encourages open, on-the-record interviews.
The two administration officials who met with the student journalism leaders Thursday were Saks and Bugbee’s boss, Jeff Cook, who is CSUF chief communications officer.
Both sides in Thursday’s meeting called it a success, although administration executives were less forthcoming than the student journalists.
Saks said the “requests” listed by the student journalists “all sound very reasonable” although some, such as having an administrative staffer on call after hours “for last-minute fact-checking confirmation and breaking news” may require some salary adjustments.
Said Cook: “I felt really good about the meeting,” but he stopped short of endorsing the student recommendations, saying instead “they came well-prepared with a list of things to take a look at and consider.”
He also denied there was any rule prohibiting administration staff or faculty from speaking to reporters.
“Some people on campus prefer us (the media office) to be less involved and some people prefer us to be more involved,” he said.
Rudy Chinchilla, the Daily Titan’s incoming editor-in-chief, also sounded positive notes. “Thankfully, they’re being receptive and listening to what we’re trying to say,” he said.
In their editorial, the student newspaper’s editorial board had called for administrative openness and urged it to clean up “a shameful track record of delaying and denying inquiries.”
The board wrote: “CSUF media relations officials block the Daily Titan’s access to administrators and require reporters to submit all questions through email, denying requests for in-person or phone interviews. When a response is received, sometimes more than a month later, the information it contains is often watered-down, filtered and written by a media relations officer.”
The editorial was unanimously supported by the faculty in the university’s communications department and by the Academic Senate, both of which passed resolutions backing up the students.
In its resolution, the communications faculty said it’s been trying for “many years” to get the university administration to fix the problem and, since 2010 has given administrators “many pages of documentation of rude, dismissive, hostile and evasive treatment of its students by the office of Strategic Communications,” where Bugbee works.
For Cal State Fullerton President Mildred Garcia, the problems faced by Titan and other reporters are the second time student newspapers at Cal State campuses where she was in charge encountered restrictions.
In August 2009, when she was president of Cal State Dominguez Hills, during major statewide budget cuts, she shut down the student newspaper to save $76,000 a year. It was the only student newspaper shut down on any of the 23 Cal State campuses during the budget troubles.
After the Los Angeles Times wrote about it, the newspaper, the Bulletin, was restored six months later.
The problems at Cal State Fullerton existed when Garcia was named president in 2012, according to Communications Department faculty, and continued under her administration.
Asked if Garcia, 63, set policies or directed staff to make it difficult for journalists to gather information, Saks said: “Oh, goodness no, no, no.”
Outgoing Titan Editor-in-Chief Samuel Mountjoy, who graduates this semester, said “I was happy about how the meeting came out, but until next semester we won’t be able to really tell how it turned out.”
Chinchilla agreed that until student journalists return in the fall and see how the administration acts, it won’t be known how much action has been taken.
“It does seem like it will be next fall before we really see if they go ahead and implement” the changes, he said.
You can contact Tracy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org