UPDATE 2:45 PM: NMU President Fritz Erickson has requested that the FOIA fees be waived and that the requested materials be provided to The North Wind as soon as possible. You can read the full statement from NMU here:
The FOIA controversy at NMU heated up over the weekend. Now it’s drawing national attention.
Here’s the latest.
After The North Wind’s board voted not to fund the FOIA request on Friday–it voted to table the issue–the Society of Professional Journalists stepped in with a $150 donation. Local print journalists offered up another $100, and TV journalists pledged $50.
That’s the $300 the newspaper needed to pay for the FOIA search.
Quick background: the newspaper is seeking the emails of six administrators to determine whether administrators might have tried to intimidate two student journalists who may have been annoying the NMU administration with their previous FOIA requests of the university.
In any case, North Wind editor Emma Finkbeiner informed Gavin Leach, NMU’s VP of Finance and Administration Monday morning that they now have the money ready and they want to get the FOIA search underway.
Next move is up to the university.
The North Wind, in the meantime, has enlisted the legal services of Frank LoMonte of the Student Press Law Center in DC. Free, of course.
Oh, and more than a dozen people, local and out-of-state, some of them NMU alumni, have also offered to fund the FOIA request. The North Wind is telling them, thanks, we have the donations for now, but we’ll keep your names and numbers in case we run into a financial pinch in the future.
But wait! Potentially the most interesting part of this story (this is known as burying the lead), played out on Saturday. That’s the day evaluation forms were sent out to members of the North Wind’s board asking them to evaluate Cheryl Reed, the newspaper’s faculty advisor.
Among the questions:
Does she keep the Board informed of newspaper incidents or practices that may be harmful to the viability of the North Wind or to NMU?
Does she work cooperatively with members of the Board?
Does she handle well the difference in role expectations by the editorial staff and the Board?
Does she maintain a satisfactory balance between criticism and praise?
If Reed comes up short on this evaluation, she could be yanked from her advisor’s role.
To be fair, these evaluations come up every semester. It might be mere coincidence that the evaluations were sent out the day immediately following the Board’s decision not to back the FOIA request, just when the controversy was beginning to explode.
Reed, an award-winning, longtime investigative journalist who just started at NMU last year, might be seen by some as an agitator. The North Wind staff, the young journalists, seem to revere her. They’re actually learning something about the role of the media in society.
She simply sees herself as an educator and journalist.
What NMU does with her and the latest FOIA request–the alleged “intimidation” emails–will be watched by the NMU community, Marquette, and increasingly, a national audience.
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