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Queens Chronicle

Battle over office space at St. John’s

Torch staffers angered over plan to force a move to a smaller location

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Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:41 am, Thu May 15, 2014.

In a time where newspapers around the country are laying off dozens of staffers or closing altogether, the Torch, the independent, student-run publication at St. John’s University, has had no problem growing.

So when the school informed the Torch’s editorial board last week of its plan to move the newspaper’s office from its spacious room in the first floor of the recently constructed D’Angelo Center to a much smaller space across the hallway, many current and former Torch staffers cried foul.

“What the Torch wants and needs is a space to manage the growing staff and writers,” Samantha Albanese, the incoming editor-in-chief, said. “With the growing staff, as any other group, we would love to have a larger space, but the current space models a newsroom and is suitable for the Torch’s needs.”

After strong backlash from dozens of students and alumni, the school met with the editorial board again on Monday to discuss a compromise, with another meeting scheduled for later this week.

The school’s original plan was to move the Torch, made up of 13 editors, five copy editors, two business managers and various staff writers, from a large, conference room-like space it shares with two other student organizations to a room about 30 percent of the size.

According to a Torch article written last week by former editor-in-chief Kieran Lynch, a senior at St. John’s, the students were not involved in the decision-making process and were informed of the move only after the decision had been finalized.

The university said in a statement the move is a part of “a larger realignment to maximize space efficiency on the first floor of the D’Angelo Center,” but Lynch’s article still became a rallying point on social media for students angry with the decision.

Jim Baumbach, the faculty advisor to the Torch and a former journalism professor at St. John’s, doesn’t classify the newspaper’s move as being detrimental, but he expects a deal that satisfies both sides to emerge from the discussions.

“Change is a part of life. If you work at the same company for 40 years, you won’t be sitting at the same desk in the same office,” Baumbach said. “The administration heard them loud and clear. I think both sides are on the road to a compromise.”

Mark Prendergast, the director of the journalism program at St. John’s, opposes the newspaper’s potential move to a smaller office. While not directly affiliated with the Torch, he feels a proper office helps facilitate the success of a student newspaper.

“Journalism is not a solitary pursuit. It’s not a writer in a cabin in the woods writing the next great American novel,” Prendergast said. “One of the ways you build a first-class journalism program is by giving the students a place to gather and to use the occasion to discuss a mutual interest in journalism.

“I certainly support them,” he said of the students. “I would like to see the Torch remain visible and viable in its surroundings.”

Originally, some students speculated the school’s move was retaliatory in nature. They claimed it was made in response to the Torch’s coverage of the embezzlement scandal that resulted in the arrest, trial and eventual suicide of former dean Cecilia Chang and the retirement of disgraced former university president Rev. Donald Harrington last year.

However, Baumbach believes that is far from the case.

“There’s not one part of me that believes it’s retaliation on the school’s part,” he said. “I’m more than happy with the way the university has let the Torch go its own way.”

Albanese is hoping for a resolution of the issue before the school year ends next week.

“We hope to come to a solution by either the end of this week or early next week,” she said. “The administration seems to be very willing to accommodate the Torch’s needs in a timely manner.”

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