Three weeks ago, a student-run newspaper with ties to New York University got a new editorial adviser: Kenna Griffin, a former reporter and editor who had taught journalism at Oklahoma City University for 16 years. She started advising the paper, Washington Square News, remotely from Oklahoma.
On Monday, 43 of its student journalists — all but four people on staff — resigned.
The tensions at Washington Square News, a journalistic training ground for N.Y.U. undergraduates since 1973, began when its editor in chief was “fired without warning” soon after Dr. Griffin started, the students wrote in a post that appeared on the publication’s website Monday.
“Dr. Griffin was increasingly rude and disrespectful to the staff, despite being repeatedly reminded that her words had a negative effect on staff morale,” the post said. “Dr. Griffin was unnecessarily harsh, and when confronted about her behavior, would defend it by arguing that WSN’s staff is too immature to accept critique.”
Dr. Griffin did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
According to the post, the working relationship between the students and the adviser worsened after a dispute over the use of the word “murder” to describe the death of Breonna Taylor in a Sept. 24 article about protests in New York prompted by a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to charge police officers in her killing. Many news organizations use the word “murder” only after there has been a homicide conviction.
Abby Hofstetter, 21, who stepped down as managing editor of Washington Square News, said in an interview that Dr. Griffin had failed to explain the journalistic use of the word in a Slack message to staff.
“That hurt our Black staff,” Ms. Hofstetter said. “Tensions were really high. The way that so much of the staff just woke up to that message, it was very clear that she did not understand the gravity of what she was saying.”
In the post signed by the staff members who quit, the students listed other complaints about Dr. Griffin, a former journalist at The Oklahoman and The Guthrie News Leader, also in Oklahoma, who is the president of the College Media Association. They said she had pressured an editor “to reveal their ‘real name’ after the editor disclosed their non-cisgender identity,” said trigger warnings on articles about sexual assault were unnecessary, stated that “racism is a matter of subjectivity” and demanded stories “without regard to reporters’ personal safety at protests and students’ time and responsibilities beyond WSN.”
Ms. Hofstetter said she had asked Dr. Griffin to apologize, to no avail. “When we felt we had exhausted all of our other options, we realized we were not comfortable working in an environment like this,” she said.
Washington Square News covers N.Y.U. and the neighborhoods surrounding the Manhattan and Brooklyn campuses. It publishes a weekly print paper during the academic year and runs a website that is updated more frequently. It operates autonomously but has N.Y.U. journalism professors on its advisory board, and the university provides office space on Third Avenue.
In their post, the students demanded the resignation of Dr. Griffin and asked that Washington Square News no longer be labeled “independent,” because of its links to N.Y.U.’s Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism. Ms. Hofstetter said four students had decided to remain on staff; the other 43 would not return unless the changes were made.
John Beckman, an N.Y.U. spokesman, said the students’ announcement came as “a complete surprise to the university.”
“If there is a way that the university can help, we would; however, we would want to do so in a manner that ensures that such assistance does not impinge upon or raise any specter of doubt about the paper’s editorial independence,” Mr. Beckman said in a statement.
The former Washington Square News staff members said they had decided to leave with reluctance. “This was extensively deliberated in collaboration with 43 staff editors, and it was not a decision we enjoyed making,” they wrote.