By Ken Krayeske • Posted 10:30 PM EST
Marissa Blaszko's image from her facebook page. Blaszko made no secret of her activism, but the Recorder hired her anyways. She plans on challenging her firing before the Central Connecticut State University media board on April 17.
Melissa Traynor earns $1,800 a semester to serve as the editor-in-chief of the Recorder, the weekly newspaper at Central Connecticut State University (online here).
Traynor said she talks daily to her good friend Mark Rowan, the former Recorder editor responsible for such undergrad journalism snafus as publishing an op-ed in praise of rape and printing a cartoon that in three panels glorified racism, pedophilia, and kidnapping.
After these issues created a firestorm, Rowan wrote a code of ethics, based, in part, on the one crafted by the New York Times. This is the same Times whose lead national security reporter, Judy Miller, in the run-up to the Iraq war had such a high security clearance that she couldn't share certain information with her editors or readers.
Now Traynor's enforcement of the code of ethics has sparked a firing of its own: Traynor axed her op-ed page editor Marissa Blaszko for being a political activist. At a time when the objective model of journalism is crumbling at its very foundations with the collapse of the industry, the Recorder code of ethics prizes objectivity above all else.
"The newspaper does not have an official political stance, so political bias should be kept within the appropriate pages dedicated to commentary," Rowan wrote in the code of ethics, printed December 22, 2007. The next sentence prohibits Recorder editors from engaging in any sort of political activism, on or off campus, and indicates that staff members must relinquish all political affiliations prior to joining the paid staff.
When Blaszko first started writing at the Recorder in the Spring of 2008, she loved it. She is an art major from Rocky Hill, and she was enthralled by getting out there and reporting. She got into activism during the summer, when she met some folks whose ideas she liked.
Before taking the $500 a semester position as op-ed editor last fall, Blaszko said she told Traynor of her affiliation with a political organization, and was hired anyways.
"She said it was no big deal," Blaszko said of Traynor. "The advisor [Prof. Vivian Martin] said it was not a big deal. At the beginning of last semester, I gave a full disclosure before I signed on and they said it was fine."
Prof. Vivian Martin, one of two professors in Central's growing journalism department, did not return an email or phone calls for comment.
Traynor remembers Blaszko's full disclosure as more subdued, as an I-am-treasurer-for-this-organization-and-that's-all kind of thing. But she acknowledged that Blaszko's activities presented no issues at first.
Blaszko's other on campus group sponsored a rally on campus, and actually photographed the event for the paper, because the editor was writing about it. No problems there, Blaszko said.
"I put it together behind the scenes I knew the Recorder didn’t want me doing it," Blaszko said. "I didn’t participate in it, I went to take photos because the editor was going to write about it."
But as Blaszko's work outside the Recorder increased, Traynor grew more and more uncomfortable. In November, Blaszko organized a book tour on a political topic, and she didn't hide how she felt about the book topic. She wrote a straight news piece about the event, which she participated in, but Traynor refused to run it on the op-ed pages.
"It was the end of the semester, and I didn’t want to ruffle feathers," Blaszko said. "I didn’t want to pick a fight, and I didn’t feel like I was provoked enough in order to warrant a fight."
In January, Traynor's concern elevated with Blaszko's attendance at political events in Washington, D.C. and New York City.
Then Traynor learned that at an off-campus political event three months prior, advertised online, Blaszko identified herself as the opinion editor of the Recorder. So Traynor sat Blaszko down to talk about it before the semester began.
"As for my on campus work, she told me I would have to pick," Blaszko said. "She really left me with the feeling that she was going to fire me immediately. I went to Dr. Martin and she said that this wasn’t a conflict of interest."
Martin then called student activities and they had an intervention with Traynor, Blaszko said. "Melissa called me
later to tell me that she hadn't really meant it," Blaszko said. Martin reportedly told Blaszko Traynor and crew were taking these rules too literally.
This same code of ethics fosters diversity and stresses honesty. And if nothing else, Traynor is honest about her actions.
The situation grew more heated when Blaszko criticized on Tweeter Traynor's editorial judgment about an unwritten editorial in the paper. Blaszko allegedly signed a petition with her Recorder affiliation. Traynor sat her down again for another heart to heart.
"The day that the managing editor and I were talking to her about her activism, we gave her an ultimatum – either choose other organizations or the Recorder," Traynor said, and clarified that she meant a paying position at the Recorder. Staff writers could be in political groups.
Blaszko refused to choose on the spot. "I understand why that would be intimidating," Traynor said. "She left the office, I emailed her the next day, I asked her if she wanted to come in and talk about it, finish the conversation."
Instead, Blaszko went to Prof. Martin and a few other people like Sue Sweeney, student activities advisor. As in the last time, Martin allegedly again said Traynor was taking things too seriously.
Rather than talk to Blaszko again, Traynor fired her March 10. But before telling Blaszko she was fired, Traynor shut off Blaszko's key card. So Blaszko discovered her dismissal from the Recorder when she swiped her key to enter the office for a meeting, called by Traynor, and was locked out.
"I removed her card key access prior to dismissing her," Traynor said. "When that happened I wasn’t angry, but disappointed that she wouldn’t come to me to work things out," Traynor said. "At that point, I decided she was not going to be an editor, and I removed her card access."
On the telephone, Traynor repeatedly said that Central's administration recommended she not use the word fire in regards to this situation. But she used it anyways, frequently.
Traynor said the First Amendment does not protect Blaszko's views.
"The First Amendment does not guarantee that someone's views should be published in a college newspaper," Traynor said. "I don’t think people use the First Amendment thing correctly. Just because you have an opinion, I don’t think that you should be able to put it anywhere. I think that she believes that her view is not as popular as other peoples, she is using the First Amendment as a crutch."
Blaszko's political leaning is unimportant, because Traynor also forced another member of her staff to choose between a political club on campus and working for the Recorder. But if you must know, Blaszko was a member of the Youth Socialist Action club. The online protest she indicated her affiliation to the Recorder was for an anti-war protest. The trips to DC and NYC were to protest the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
"I'm against the war, but I don't think that is here or there," Traynor said. The Recorder hasn't editorialized against any U.S. war.
"It is not something that as a paper we think is super relevant to the campus," she said. "We try to make everything extremely local, unless it something pressing, with veterans, with the war that would happen on campus or have to do with campus, but nothing like that has ever come up."
This firing, then, seems to be more about a difference in editorial judgment, Traynor said. Blaszko was a good writer, and took criticism well, but her pieces always seemed to weave in the thread of labor struggles. No one in the CCSU administration complained, Traynor said.
"Even a movie review she did had a pro-labor spin on it," Traynor said. "It was frustrating to read. If the editors who work there can’t enjoy it, I don't see a lot of value in it. I don't think people who are picking up the paper are going to benefit from it."
But what about the code of ethics' author? Traynor said even though she talks to Rowan daily, he didn't have much of an opinion on the situation. As for diversity, Traynor agreed that all views should be protected.
"I don't think that is the issue," she said. "I firmly belioeve that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. The First
Amendment does not guarantee that someone's views should be published in a college newspaper. The First Amendment shouldn't be used to determine what readers want to read."
Blaszko is persevering. She wants her job back, but Traynor flatly stated that would never happen. When Blaszko first heard about the controversy surrounding the "rape is a magical experience" article, she said she was in high school, and she let it pass by, because she didn't think it mattered to her.
"I feel like everybody in Connecticut had heard about the rape problem, I didn’t pay attention, I did understand how it pertained to me," Blaszko said. "This code of ethics I am being fired for is because of what happened 2007. Rowan was calling for more censorship. Now they have an excuse to do stuff like this because of it."