The Editor of Oxford Today has been told that his job is under review.
Some members of the magazine’s editorial board now claim that the move comes as part of a drive to force the publication to take a more ‘corporate’ line.
Oxford Today is a termly magazine published by the University.
Members of the Editorial Advisory Board discussed the possibility of resigning to express their anger that the decision to review Editor Greg Neale’s position was taken without their consent.
The magazine covers all aspects of the life at Oxford and its colleges, as well as historical features about the University and its alumni. It is distributed to around 150,000 alumni worldwide.
Several members of the Advisory Board have expressed the opinion that the review is part of a wider scheme that would force the magazine to take a more corporate line, and become a platform for the University.
Traditionally it is an independent “Prospect style” magazine.
Neale has said he would not allow the alumni magazine to become a “puppet of the University”.
One member of the Editorial Advisory Board, who wished to remain anonymous, told Cherwell, “The editorial independence of Oxford Today is now on the line.
“The very members of the Editorial Advisory Board charged with protecting [Oxford Today‘s] freedom and determining its content are being told to look the other way while faceless people on shadowy committees all determine a new publisher, a new editor and a new direction for the magazine.”
In an uncharacteristically heated meeting last Tuesday, the majority of the 14-strong Editorial Advisory Board expressed their anger at Jeremy Harris, the University’s Director of Public Affairs. Harris, along with the Oxford Today Strategic Board, took the decision to review Neale’s position as Editor.
At one point Harris, rejecting any idea of censorship, reportedly pounded the table with his fists.
A member of the Board told Cherwell that immediately following this meeting, many of the Editorial Advisory Board held “an informal discussion” where “they agreed to consider their positions”.
Oxford University’s Chancellor, Lord Patten, shares the Board’s concern for the editorial independence of Oxford Today. At the Open Forum for alumni in September 2008, he said that “the last thing we want is some sort of North Korea Times.”
However, the University denies that the decision to review the editorship is a question of journalistic independence.
In a letter sent to the Board on 25th January, Harris said that the decision to select a new editor was necessary because of a “contractual arrangement” whereby the editor was employed by the publishers.
The current publishers, Wiley-Blackwell, will not be renewing their contract when it expires in the summer.
A University spokesperson said, “a new publisher is currently being appointed and in due course they will participate, as in the past, in the selection process of the editor, with whom they will sign a new freelance contract.
“This will again be by an open and competitive process, in which the present editor is of course fully in a position to take part.”
Many observers question the procedural necessity of asking Neale to competitively reapply for his job. One Board member suggested that the University was using the circumstances over the new publishing contract as “an excuse to oust Greg.”
There is, however, no evidence behind this claim, which Harris and the University have denied.
A senior member of the Editorial Advisory Board said, “Greg Neale has been an excellent Editor of Oxford Today. Many of the members of the Board strongly support him staying on as Editor.”
Many individuals on the Editorial Advisory Board feel that it is their responsibility to appoint an Editor, and are puzzled as to why the decision to review Neale’s position as Editor has been made elsewhere. The decision was taken by the Oxford Today Strategic Board.
Mary Dejevsky, Chief Editorial Writer at The Independent and member of the Editorial Advisory Board, said that during the meeting she “probed the question of what the Editorial Board was for.”
In a large online readership survey last year, 92% of readers endorsed Neale’s performance as editor of Oxford Today.
The main complaint to emerge from the survey was that the magazine was not independent enough from the University. Ten percent of respondents urged Oxford Today to become “less formal” and more “controversial”.
Neale has been editor of Oxford Today since Michaelmas 2007. Neale will be Editor of next term’s magazine, however the future of his position as Editor remains uncertain.