Rooney Defends Media Policy, Cites ‘Inaccurate Reporting’

Photo Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

Days after Loyola’s student newspaper published a staff editorial slamming the school for implementing a media policy the editorial board said has stifled the flow of information on everything from neighborhood street violence to tuition hikes — Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney has doubled down and defended the policies’ requirements and purpose, while leaving some questions unanswered.

The media policy says no reporter may interview a university employee without prior approval from University Marketing and Communication, even if the inquiry involves a reporter trying to talk to a professor as an expert source for an article.

At her annual “Pizza with the President” event, and in email exchanges with Editor-in-Chief Henry Redman, Rooney explained her policies are necessary because the student newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix, has made mistakes which have created liability for the university.

But when presented with direct questions from a Phoenix reporter about the specific liability and inaccuracies Rooney referenced in her email, Loyola communications did not provide clear answers.

This is one of many instances under Rooney’s administration in which The Phoenix has been left without reply, a running list of questions on The Phoenix’s website shows.

The editorial argues Rooney’s communications staff has chastised Phoenix reporters for ignoring aspects of the media policy — which The Phoenix Editorial Board doesn’t regard as binding, with reporters supposed to pursue information however possible, so long as they follow ethical guidelines.

The Phoenix published a staff editorial Feb. 13 likening Rooney’s media policy with that of President Donald Trump, who has a history of sparring with the press and accusing reporters of inaccuracies and bias without providing any basis of fact.

Since the editorial, Rooney has pushed back against that characterization.

Two sources, who asked to remain anonymous, attended Rooney’s “Pizza With The President” event on Feb. 14. One of the sources said the event in Regents Hall on Loyola’s Water Tower Campus was full and estimated about 100 faculty and staff were in attendance.

One source confirmed Rooney addressed The Phoenix’s editorial about the media policy and said she made the remarks before talking about anything else.

Both sources said Rooney mentioned her past work in the administration of former President Barack Obama when referencing the juxtaposition of her picture next to Trump in the editorial. But it was unclear to both sources how Rooney felt about it.

“She said that she had worked in the Obama administration for a couple years and she was very proud of that fact and seeing her picture next to Donald Trump was something that … I don’t remember the exact words, but she didn’t appreciate it,” one of the sources said.

Rooney previously worked in the U.S. Defense Department, and Obama nominated her to be the undersecretary for the Navy in 2013, but the Senate didn’t confirm her nomination after she made controversial remarks about investigating sexual assaults in the military.

One of the sources recalled Rooney said the media policy was instituted because Loyola has faced lawsuits since she’s become president, which has cost the university money. However, it’s unclear what specifically Rooney was referring to.

The other source remembered Rooney said the policy was also created to defend Loyola’s “brand.” The source confirmed Rooney mentioned past errors made by The Phoenix and how the policies are aimed at minimizing mistakes, which the university has had to deal with.

Redman reached out to Rooney via email the evening of Feb. 14 after hearing about her remarks, inviting her to speak to the editorial board and explain her position.

She responded by email the following Monday, Feb. 18, inviting Redman to a meeting with Jeremy Langford, the vice president for University Marketing and Communication and the School of Communication’s Student Media Manager, Ralph Braseth.

In Rooney’s response to Redman, she said she acknowledged the goal of the media policy at the faculty event, which she said is to “pair reporters — including those from the Phoenix — in a timely manner with the best sources for information that is helpful and accurate.”

Rooney also said in the email the university routinely reevaluates its policies and makes changes and updates when necessary to accomplish its goals.

“Accuracy matters, and in the case of the Phoenix, the University is liable and has been held liable for inaccurate reporting,” Rooney said in the email.

Loyola spokesperson Evangeline Politis didn’t answer a Phoenix reporter’s follow-up questions Feb. 19 asking for specification on the liabilities and inaccurate reporting Rooney referenced in the email.

The questions were: “What specifically are the inaccuracies that Rooney is referring to? Also, what is the liability that she’s referring to? Is this financial or reputational? Can you be more specific?”

Instead, Politis rehashed what Rooney had said in the email to Redman.

“I am aware that the president responded to Henry Redman,” Politis wrote. “She shared that, in the short term, our vice president is coordinating meetings with the Loyola Phoenix and the School of Communication, and in the longer term, he is convening a task force to review the University’s media policy and any relevant policies of the Loyola Phoenix. The aim of both initiatives is to foster more effective ways of working with the newspaper and better serve the Loyola community.”

Rooney also said in the Feb. 18 email the meeting with Langford and Braseth would be purposed at “developing a working draft media policy that represents best practices today for protecting free speech and ensuring fair, balanced, and accurate reporting by media, including the Phoenix.”

Rooney also invited Redman to represent The Phoenix Editorial Board on a task force which would discuss the long-term goals of the media policy. It would also include representatives from the School of Communication, deans, faculty and other administration members.

She said the university is exploring the idea of working with outside “third parties with expertise in this area and are benchmarking against best practices in higher education.”

Some students, faculty and alums have expressed frustration with the media policy.

An online petition was created on behalf of “alums and supporters” of The Phoenix which has 56 signatures as of publication.

Some Loyola School of Communication faculty also made an online petition. They claim the university media policy contradicts the free speech values taught by professors, the university’s community standards and part of the faculty handbook. This petition has 29 signatures as of publication.

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