Thursday, March 09, 2006

editor-in-chief resignation controversy
sheaf publishes wrong resignation letter

I as many others in the campus community are very confused with today's publication
of the Sheaf newspaper. The acting editor-in-chief has published a letter on the second
page of today's Sheaf that claims to be the resignation letter of Will Robbins, the
former editor-in-chief. The only problem is that on a popular U of S blog ( there is a totally different letter posted that claims to be the actual letter of resignation that was accepted by the board on Monday night. Interesting that I have also found out by talking to many students close to the former editor-in-chief that the letter contained in the blog is in fact the letter that was accepted by the board as the letter of resignation of Will Robbins. So, why did the Sheaf publish the wrong letter?

It looks like the Sheaf is attempting to damage control an ever-increasing storm of controversy and that they have gone so far as to deny their former collegue his last chance to set the record straight. It is also interesting that in the letter copied below it is very obvious that Will Robbins was actually forced from his position by his collegues. It seems as though the Sheaf staff that remain at the paper did not want us to know that Will Robbins was forced from his position. It also seems as though they did not want us to know that Will Robbins had actually wanted to stay in the leadership of the paper and that he had wanted to work with the team to repair the damage done to the paper.

The response from the remaining staff at the Sheaf was mismanaged and incoherant. This led to all of the facts around the publishing of the cartoon not being disclosed in a timely manner to the media and did significant damage to the image of the Sheaf newspaper and to its editor-in-chief, Will Robbins. Maybe it would have been a good idea to continue to work together instead of turning on the leader at such a crucial time. Maybe it would have been smart to keep the boss around when true leadership was needed. Forcing Robbins to resign and then attempting to cover up the coup are both unforgiveable offences.

Robbins should never have been forced to resign. The board of directors should have never accepted his resignation which was obviously made under duress.

Here is the Letter from

The Sheaf Editor-in-Chief resignation letter

Last week, the Sheaf published the comic strip “Capitalist Piglet,” which has understandably provoked a torrent of angry response from the U of S community. Let me begin by making clear that it was not my intent to offend or hurt anyone and offer my sincere apology for the distress that this cartoon has caused. Let me also be clear that this cartoon’s inclusion was not a decision made by our editorial staff in order to test free speech boundaries, nor to deride religious sentiment. Its inclusion was, in its entirety, a mistake.

The comic was brought to my attention during our editing process and I asked that it be removed from the paper. However, due to miscommunication during our editing process, this was not done. As the Editor-in-Chief of the Sheaf, it was my responsibility to ensure that this comic was removed prior to the publication of our last issue and I take full responsibility for the fact that this did not occur.

We here at the sheaf are student journalists, regular students without J-school degrees and the luxury of the full oversight processes that professional papers offer their staff, but still very passionate about the idea and role of the alternative press. This affords us some unique possibilities in terms of pursuing ideas, stories, or even modes of production that are most definitely valuable. It also limits us in some respects and leads to the inclusion of errors in publication in ways that would not occur elsewhere in the professional press.

Some of our errors are small, and can be forgiven or dismissed as part and parcel of the learning curve for student journalism. Other mistakes are far more serious and need proper redress in order to maintain student journalism’s integrity and place as a proper part of the Press, and to regain the trust and confidence of the reading community that we serve. The erroneous inclusion of this comic strip is clearly one of the latter cases.

Throughout my tenure as Editor of the Sheaf, I have tried very hard to steer this paper into more thoughtful waters. I feel that, up until our last week’s issue, this year’s Sheaf had been a very open, intelligent, reasonable, and tolerant forum for all manner of debate and discussion surrounding issues important to this campus community; sometimes full of passionate disagreement, but always respectful of other’s positions.

In particular, I feel, and I think justifiably so, extremely proud of our February 23rd issue which dealt with the depiction of the Prophet Mohammad in the international press. With that issue, the Sheaf set up an implicit understanding with our readers that, even if we had not treated issues surrounding religious tolerance with the proper amount of thought and respect in the past, we would certainly do so in the future.

That we have so egregiously violated that standard only a week later is particularly distressing to me, and must be far more so to the community that we serve. Despite the unintentional nature of this violation, it is well within the range of the reasonable for the U of S community to ask that we offer redress.Again, I wish to convey my regret at the inclusion of this comic in our paper, and to offer my most sincere apologies to any and all who were offended or hurt by its publication. There are many members of our campus community who have suffered the injustice of derision of their fundamental beliefs as a direct result of my mistake, and I assure you that I will work to mitigate and repair that damage to the best of my ability to do so.

There is a tradition within the journalistic community that when an error of this sort happens, the person at the top of the ladder is supposed to fall on their sword, for the good of the paper. The idea seems to be that slinking away headless will somehow right the wrong committed, as if any injustice perpetrated can be solved with just a little bit of someone’s blood. Personally, I feel that actually repairing the damage done by this mistake on the part of the sheaf and myself is a far more useful solution.

As I said earlier, I think that student journalists have a unique position outside of the mainstream press in that they can critically analyse the entire project of the professional press from an outside position. In the case of this particular tradition, I personally think that far more useful reparations for our mistake can be made by actually going out and doing the work of restoring the confidence of the student body in its newspaper, actually apologizing to the people who deserve apologies. I would feel like I was shirking the real work to be done here if I simply abdicated responsibility and resigned.

However, the rest of my staff disagrees with me on this notion. While it might be the case that my position is technically the head of the paper, in truth we work very much like a collective, and this lack of confidence in my views here by the rest of the staff is a serious matter. Given that they can see no useful role for me to play in their own attempts to rectify this situation, I am forced, unwillingly, to resign after all.


Will Robbins

To access the version that appeared in the Sheaf please go to and click on this week's edition. The letter is on page A2.


Blogger Mark Watson said...

This dissapoints me greatly.

My position is that I will submit content and do copy editing for the Sheaf for the remainder of the year in a show of solidarity with the paper. I must, however, criticize the paper for not running Will's full letter.

Will shouldn't, of course, had to resign. The Sheaf should have showed no cowardice against those that despise free speech. Before something gets run, it is a question of taste. After it is run, it is only a question of free speech. The distinction between those that merely speak it and those that believe it has become painfully clear.

10:23 AM  
Blogger tomax7 said...

Maybe you should define your version of free speech Mark, before you go prattling on about those "that despise" it because maybe others don't share your version being painfully clear.

While you are at it...

Define for me the line where hate literature would come into the picture.

Define also for me the definition of taste versus say judgement.

Define for me what accountability is if one crossed the public norm of decency.

As you can see, I obviously don't have a highly evolved handle on these painfully clear topics as you do.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Mark Watson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Mark Watson said...

That last post didn't quite read correctly. Tom, I'll get a good reply to you out soon, hopefully this weekend. I really have to work now. sorry!

2:34 PM  
Blogger tomax7 said...

Not a problem Mark, I have to head out to Red Deer for work.

Blogging believe it or not, is my way of relaxing (albeit getting out of fixing things around the house).

Oh oh here comes the wife...

2:56 PM  
Blogger Saskboy said...

It appears to me there's some sort of power struggle, where one side wanted to publish the Muslim cartoons, and the other didn't. The side that wanted publication managed to slip the Jesus cartoon by the editors.

4:45 PM  
Blogger tomax7 said...

sask, i think you are closer to the truth than most realize.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

There was no "power struggle." In the end, I was the only staff member in favour of publishing the muhammad cartoons.

11:46 PM  
Blogger tomax7 said...

Just curious as to why the staff "lost confidence" in your editor, hence prompting him to resign?

1:00 PM  

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