Master of the Universe

A mistake was made recently at The Daily Universe. Now, I know the BYU student newspaper routinely makes mistakes, including that one time back in the ’90s when they let me be editor in chief for a semester. But this error wasn’t the fault of the students. This one came from the Communications Department.

The mistake was in firing John Gholdston as managing director of The Daily Universe, a position he held for 15 years. Under his compassionate tutelage and vast real-life-journalism experience, hundreds of students were immeasurably enriched and enlightened by John Gholdston. (Trivia: He does not like to be called “Gholdie.”) We also learned how to use words like “tutelage.”

Firing him was a mistake, pure and simple. What’s worse, it was a cowardly, back-stabby mistake. He was unceremoniously dumped, without notice and without cause, two weeks before Christmas.

This is the man who led The Daily Universe through its integration with the broadcast journalism program, and under whose guidance The Daily Universe won awards year after year after year. And then he was treated the way you treat part-time seasonal help, or the kid who occasionally mows your lawn. Rarely have I seen such ingratitude and cluelessness, even from BYU officials, among whom ingratitude and cluelessness are seen as favorable traits. (They call them “self-reliance” and “child-like innocence.”)

Gholdston has legal reasons for not discussing the reasons he was given for the firing, but he did tell me this: “I did not violate any Honor Code principles, and I broke no rules or laws involving BYU or the LDS Church — nor was I accused of such.” In other words, he didn’t do anything wrong, and the Communications Department doesn’t claim he did.

So why was he fired, then? The mass e-mail sent by some students last weekend says the Communications Department accused Gholdston of being inaccessible to students, and unwilling to mentor them. I hope this is not really what the Communications Department said — they’re not talking to the press, either — because it is an absurd statement. In fact, it is the least-true statement I’ve ever heard in my life. A team of liars working around the clock for a thousand years could not come up with a statement any less true than that.

Being available to students is what John Gholdston was best known for! If you’re going to fire someone and make up a reason for it, at least make up a GOOD reason. Don’t accuse the guy of NOT being the one thing he was best known for being. It’s like firing Santa Claus for not being jolly.

Speaking of Santa Claus, I would like to remind you that the firing took place two weeks before Christmas.

The topper was when NewsNet General Manager Jim Kelly refused to let student editors run a story about the firing in last Friday’s Daily Universe. Communications Department Chair Michael Perkins said in Tuesday’s Daily Herald that this decision was a matter of news judgment: “It really wasn’t a news story,” he said.

A beloved teacher and role model is suddenly fired, and it’s not a news story? Well, here’s a partial list of things that WERE in Friday’s Daily Universe, which means they apparently ARE news stories:

“Donation Needs Exceed Contributions.” (What? You mean there are still poor people? What happened to that 10 bucks I gave United Way?)

“Students Learn Survival Skills.” (Report on a graduate student’s lecture on managing finals-week stress.)

“New Planner Promotes Y.” (FranklinCovey has unveiled a new BYU-themed day planner.)

“Shortened Break Causes Concern.” (Many students — well, two are quoted in the story — wish Christmas break were longer.)

If stories were omitted from The Daily Universe due to not being newsworthy, each day’s edition would consist of two 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper (front only). And if Gholdston were still there to teach and instruct, the stories would be written by students who’d been infused with a passion for journalism, and who were allowed to make mistakes now and then as part of the learning process. Under the new management, I suspect they’ll be infused with a passion for bureaucracy and double-speak — good training for the public relations students, I guess, but not the journalists.

Attention BYU: Take my name off your mailing list, because I’m not donating anymore. Attention whichever university hires Gholdston now: Just tell me who to make the check out to.

This column was not published in The Daily Herald. It was meant to appear on Dec. 21, 2001; however, it was pulled prior to publication.

It was diplomacy that prevented the column being published. The Daily Universe was printed on the Daily Herald's press, so we had a working relationship with them. It was feared this column could damage that relationship -- which, with the change in leadership at the Universe, would be a little tender at the moment already.

The idea that readers wouldn't care about such a relatively small news event was lamely floated as another reason for not running the column, but considering the trivial things I usually wrote about, I didn't take that reason very seriously.

I greatly respected and enjoyed working with the people who made the decision not to run this column, though I obviously disagreed with them here.

By the way, John Gholdston was subsequently hired by Southern Utah University in Cedar City, to do pretty much what he'd been doing at BYU. If someone from SUU wants to send me a donation letter, I'll be glad to write out a check. I wasn't kidding about that.

It is no exaggeration to say that without Gholdston, there would be no "Snide Remarks." While I generally had supporters among the Communications Department faculty when I was at BYU, there were times when he was the ONLY one left standing beside me. He inspired me and encouraged me constantly, and is a good friend to boot. He was treated shabbily, but I am glad to know he has a better job now, in a much less hostile work environment. The kids at SUU are lucky, except for the part where they live in Cedar City.