Ohio U. Student Newspaper Suspends Editor for Cutting Secret Deal With School President

The Post suspended its opinion editor Xander Zellner for two weeks and has publicly apologized to readers for a secret deal Zellner agreed to with Ohio University's president.

According to The Athens News, Zellner convinced OU prez Roderick McDavis to become an occasional op-ed contributor to the Post starting earlier this year. Along with nailing down details like "frequency of contribution, word count, topics of interest, and headline writing," the president's handlers secured an agreement from Zellner to have McDavis' op-eds run without a published rebuttal of any sort for at least 24 hours.

Zellner then told no one else on the student newspaper's staff. Predictably, trouble ensued.

A Post editorial earlier this week informed readers of the implications of this backroom deal:

"On Monday, the Post published an op-ed by McDavis -- his second of the academic year -- and an editorial critiquing its content. Jennifer Kirksey, McDavis' chief of staff, then made us aware of the prior agreement between the opinion editor and the president's office. She also informed us that a meeting between the president and a Post reporter was canceled because we had gone back on our word. That was the first time any of the Post's other top editors heard of such an agreement. After conducting an internal investigation, we found the opinion editor acted alone, making the verbal agreement with McDavis and Kirksey earlier this year."

So just to be clear: Zellner apparently made a weighty, controversial editorial decision on his own and without informing his fellow eds and in the process threatened the paper's integrity and its relationship with an extremely important source/newsmaker.

The Post's executive editors: "We want you, our readers, to know we have messed up in a big way. ... We apologize for working under conditions that would offer the appearance that the Post's editorial independence is not our utmost priority."

One interesting journalism ethics question emerging from the kerfuffle: Are regular exclusive op-eds from the school president worth giving up the right for an immediate rebuttal?

To confirm, according to The Athens Messenger, the OU president's office most likely would not have considered the 24-hour-no-rebuttal rule a dealbreaker in the op-ed scheme. The office was simply trying to secure the best deal for its boss.