It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 15 when a Temple News reporter reached Patrick O’Connor, chairman of the Board of Trustees, on the phone.
The reporter had been struggling to get in contact with Trustee Dennis Alter for the better part of two weeks to no avail. Alter, who faces a potential $219 million fine from the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, was nowhere to be found for comment.
So the reporter reached out to anyone that might have been able to point him in the right direction, including Alter’s lawyers and a few of his known business associates.
On a whim, he attempted to call the chairman of the board at his legal practice in the middle of a weekday.
“You call the chairman of the board asking for a f—ing phone number?” O’Connor said after the reporter asked if there was any way to be put in contact with Alter directly.
“Like I’m your secretary?” O’Connor said. “Would you like a sandwich, too?”
We immediately knew that O’Connor’s highly inappropriate comments were a part of the story. After all, this was the chairman of the board, the most powerful man at Temple, who received an honorary degree from the university in 2013.
Cursing at someone over the phone is no way for him to speak to any Temple student, let alone a student reporter.
We realized that our experience with O’Connor was a microcosm of the closed channels of communication between Temple’s highest governing board and the public.
Our editorial on the subject, titled “Hiding Behind the Curtain,” received an overwhelmingly positive reaction. Professional reporters from across the country emailed us to commend our reporting and offer encouragement.
The online post is the most viewed Opinion article in the history of temple-news.com.
We bring this story up in our final editorial of the semester not as a pat on the back, but a call for respect. After a school year’s worth of reporting on major issues at this university, including athletic cuts, sexual assault and off-campus attacks, we feel reaffirmed of our role as a vital news organization in North Philadelphia.
We know that as student journalists, we are often disrespected, overlooked or underestimated. We can’t help but think O’Connor would never have spoken to a reporter at the Inquirer that way if someone had called his office line.
So we’d like to take this opportunity to remind folks that student journalism is, at the end of the day, still journalism.
We are Temple University’s independent, fully student-run newspaper. We have been a watchdog for the university community since 1921. In February, it was announced that The Temple News won 17 Student Keystone Press Awards from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, which tied an all-time state record.
This past weekend, we won the Mark of Excellence award from the Society of Professional Journalists as the Best All-Around Non Daily student newspaper in the Northeast region.
Frequently this year, we’ve scooped local education reporters on major stories. Perhaps even more frequently, we’ve covered stories in North Philadelphia that the rest of the city’s news organizations missed.
We think our job as student journalists is more important for this city now more than ever. For the past four years we’ve watched as staff cuts and newsroom reorganizing have diminished the local media’s ability to properly cover a variety of issues in Philadelphia, including higher education.
With much discomfort, we’ve been closely following the ongoing legal battles to determine the ownership of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. We’ve seen how issues with embattled owners and declining advertising revenue can affect content and we’re grateful that we’re able to avoid those issues.
In light of all the conflict that inflicts local and national news media, we’re proud to be a student newspaper that keeps its head down and quietly goes about the business of trying to get it right.