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Clarifying The Observer’s independence

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, January 27, 2006

The Observer did not expect to be mentioned in University President Father John Jenkins’ addresses on academic freedom and Catholic character this week. The Observer was pleased to hear Jenkins echo the words of his predecessors by saying, “In its coverage of the news, including issues involving [the] University administration, The Observer has had, and will continue to have, editorial freedom.”

However, The Observer wishes to clarify the portion of Jenkins’ address pertaining to The Observer’s financial relationship with the University, in which he stated the newspaper “is not financially independent from the University” and “because student fees support the operation of The Observer, it has an obligation to serve the entire community in a manner consonant with the ideals of the University.”

Funding for The Observer comes from three sources: display, classified and online advertising; mail subscription fees collected by The Observer; and student subscription fees collected each semester by Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. The University and the College collect these fees – which make up between 10 and 15 percent of The Observer’s annual funding – from student subscribers as a matter of convenience, and deposit them into The Observer’s account. Neither Notre Dame nor Saint Mary’s enjoys any decision-making power over The Observer’s budget and finances.

Jenkins said, “The standards of editorial and journalistic practice that we expect at The Observer are those recognized by the most respected newspapers in this country.” Indeed, The Observer has implemented and upheld its own stringent editorial and journalistic standards since it was independently founded nearly 40 years ago. The Observer strives for these standards in its service of the University and College communities each day not because the newspaper’s partial funding by student subscription fees obligates The Observer to do so, but because the newspaper’s goals are to report on the issues and events of both campuses independently, fairly and accurately and to provide forums for the community to express ideas via letters to the editor, columns and advertisements.

In light of Jenkins’ description of The Observer as “an important means for student involvement and expression on campus,” this newspaper will devote its Viewpoint pages next week as completely as feedback allows toward publishing letters to the editor dealing with the topic of academic freedom and Catholic character at Notre Dame.