Archive for April, 2012

A Cornell University employee recently stole the spoof section from every copy of a Cornell Daily Sun issue available for pick-up within a prominent campus building.  The staffer’s aim was apparently “to prevent parents and prospective students visiting for Cornell Days [a special program for recently-admitted students] from reading them.”

As a trusted source tells me:

“The Sun, like many other college papers, typically produces a joke issue on April 1.  However, this year, a former Cornell University president died over the weekend, so the editors decided to postpone the joke issue until April 20.  April 20 happened to coincide with Cornell Days, a series of events put on by the university’s admissions department to host newly admitted students on campus. The joke issue featured satirical articles about serious issues on campus, and someone in Cornell’s administrative building removed the joke pages from every copy of the Sun in at least one administrative building where all admissions student tours run through.”

A screenshot of the front page of the recent Cornell Daily Sun spoof section.

In an editorial published late last week, the Sun‘s editorial board declared the censorious theft “an affront to our editorial independence.”

A portion of it contends:

“Perhaps our content may have offended the sensibilities of parents bringing their high schoolers to campus for the first time, but the removal of the cover should not have been allowed to occur.  The decision is telling, and it indicates that Cornell is more concerned with constructing the image that it presents to prospective students than it is with giving them the honest account of life at Cornell that they deserve. . . . This decision, however small, cannot be allowed to set a precedent.  If the university removed this spoof cover, the next step would be to remove copies of the Sun that paint the university in a negative light.”

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The Comment at Bridgewater State University is facing “an angry backlash from its readers and overseers for naming a rape victim in an article published earlier this month.  A related backlash is aimed at BSU’s president for allegedly threatening to “shut down the paper” and cutting off access to all school officials unless the article or the victim’s name is removed online.  The paper’s faculty adviser has also been fired.

The controversial piece is a straightforward recounting of a student’s past sexual assault, a story she shared with 200 participants at a campus “Take Back the Night” rally.  It identifies the student by first and last name and provides additional details about her alleged attacker and the timing and location of the assault, all of which she stated publicly at the rally or was uncovered through a basic web search.

Vigorous debate has ensued, focused on a single question: Is it OK to publish a sexual assault victim’s name without consent if the victim identifies herself and tells her story at a public event, knowing press may be covering it?

Comment editors say yes, and thus far have declined requests to apologize or take down the article or the student’s name from its website: “The Comment doesn’t publish the names of sex crime victims without their consent.  But there is implied consent when someone speaks in a public forum, and . . . the whole meaning of the rally was to encourage victims of sexual assault to speak up and not live in shame.  Any information included in the article that [the student named in the piece] did not share at the rally was easily found by searching her name and looking at her publicly-accessible social media profiles.  This isn’t an invasion of privacy. It’s simple fact checking and good journalism.”

Others say no, including BSU administrators, the assault victim named in the piece, “organizers of the ‘Take Back The Night’ rally . . . [and] a slew of frat boys, sorority girls, and student government members.  As one student said at a BSU SGA meeting: “This is ethically and morally unacceptable and it needs to be changed.  I do understand and respect the freedom of press, but a victim’s right of privacy and safety needs to be foremost and be protected.”

A separate student, in a Comment letter to the editor: “I was greatly disturbed by the article. . . . [The student named in the piece] is my friend and [sorority] sister.  She is a courageous, smart, beautiful, and inspiring person.  If you knew her you would never call her a victim.  She is in no way a victim.  She is a survivor.  Also, I don’t believe you had any right to publish a photo, her story, or her name without her permission.  I understand your intentions, but they were poorly executed.  I really feel an apology should be issued to her and the entire campus.”

The student sexual assault victim: “I hoped to share my story and the empowering message that you can overcome it.  I was aware it was a public event, but I didn’t think anyone would take my story and publicize it.  I understand the freedom of speech and freedom of press, but there is a line that you shouldn’t cross.”

Meanwhile, the administration’s official response: “There’s absolutely no question in the university’s mind that the paper has the right to print what it wants.  But when there are questions of the validity of facts and when there are questions of the rights to privacy, that deserves a conversation.”

Comment editor-in-chief Mary Polleys is alleging that the university president also demanded the article be taken down from the website and unleashed numerous threats during a closed-door meeting.

The paper’s adviser Dave Copeland was then fired in a meeting held right after the tête-à-tête with Polleys.  Copeland’s termination appears to stem directly from the controversy over this piece and other unrelated Comment content, although it was accomplished through the enactment of a random new school policy.

Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte, in a letter to BSU’s president: “To be clear, if the board of trustees enacts a regulation with the purpose and effect of disqualifying Mr. Copeland form his adviser position, it is an inevitability that Bridgewater State University, its trustees, and you personally will be sued for violating the First Amendment and that you will lose.  It would be self-destructive and pointless to pursue such a course.”


Bridgewater State Student Punched in Campus Parking Lot for Writing Opinion Piece Supporting Gay Marriage

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As I noted in a post late last month, student newspapers are struggling financially.  The decade-long plights of the professional press have at last weaved their way into the land of collegemediatopia.  If not quite a time of reckoning for some campus papers, we have definitely entered a prolonged period of profound change– cutbacks, weary sighs, and hopefully some spirited reinventions.

USA TODAY is the latest outlet to weigh in with a “student press times are tough” rundown, declaring the current state a week ago as a “financial pinch.”  It is a feeling a number of high- and low-profile campus pubs have been experiencing lately.

According to the USAT piece (hat tip to College Media Review editor Robert Bergland), “Most of the conditions causing hard times for newspapers in the private sector– declining print advertising revenue and difficulties making the Web a moneymaker– are also affecting student newspapers at colleges and universities throughout the country.  Add to the mix the budget-cutting realities that colleges and universities now face, and many journalism schools have entered adapt-or-die mode.”

My Take: The brief report’s round-up of student newspaper suffering is on-point– if a bit late to this particular pity party.  But I’m not sold on the notion put forward that j-schools are in “adapt-or-die mode”  Like many disciplines within higher ed. right now, journalism schools and programs are adapting, sure.  But I haven’t come across reports of j-schools facing life-or-death administrative struggles, outside funding declines or dramatic losses in undergraduate or graduate enrollment.

Some programs are being thrashed or shuttered in California (one example included in the lede of the USAT article), but that has been part of the larger cost-cutting at public colleges and universities statewide– not a direct attack on journalism education specifically.


Time to Wake Up: Independent Student Newspapers are Struggling Financially

Daily Californian Loses Fight for Student Funding Help– on a Technicality

UCONN’s Daily Campus in ‘Dire Straits’ Financially; Editor Writes SOS Letter to Students

Daily Illini is Up $150,000; For the First Time, Students Will Help Fund the Paper

California Community College Newspaper Gets the Boot Due to Budget Cuts

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The Appalachian, the student newspaper at North Carolina’s Appalachian State University, earned criticism late last week– after taking some of its own readers to task.

On Wednesday, due to an apparent miscommunication with a source, the paper mistakenly tweeted that a popular local Mexican restaurant was closing.  Editors quickly corrected the error, but not before the Appalachianreceived more feedback and engagement than we ever have.”

Instead of penning the typical mea culpa editorial however, the paper published a piecescolding readers for being a little bit too concerned about their quesadillas and margaritas.”  A PR Daily post declared it “a shining example of what not to do– particularly in the world of social media.”  The paper’s managing editor said top staff “stand by the spirit of our editorial, but the tone in which it was delivered was far from ideal.”


As a portion noted, “We’re always happy to admit an oversight in our reporting process, and we’ll use the incident as a learning opportunity. Social media reporting is brand-new. There are still plenty of mistakes and lessons in our future. . . . All of a sudden, people cared– and it was all about a Mexican restaurant.  Sorry burrito lovers, in a list of the most important issues covered this year, the potential closing of [the restaurant] wouldn’t even make the top 10.  We have never seen students engage with our content the way they did today. And frankly, we think there are things that deserve your attention more.”

In a recent post, Jim Romenesko wondered whether it was “THE MOST BELLIGERENT NEWSPAPER APOLOGY EVER?”  Two examples of the 69 mostly-critical comments posted beneath it:

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First, the bear was tranquilized.  Then it fell.  Then it went viral.  Now it may be the center of a lawsuit.  Welcome to collegemediatopia in 2012.

This past Thursday, Andrew Duann, a student photographer for The CU Independent, snapped an instantly-iconic shot of a brown bear falling from a tree near a University of Colorado Boulder residence hall village.  The bear had been tranquilized by local wildlife officials and was subsequently taken into custody for its own– and others’– protection.

The photo almost immediately zoomed across the mainstream and outer reaches of the interwebs.  As Denver’s Westword confirms, “[W]ithin four hours or so [of its posting], it had become a Facebook and Twitter smash, as well as winding up on Gawker, Reddit, Yahoo and more traditional news platforms such as CBS4, 7News, Fox 31, the Boulder Daily Camera and the Denver Post. . . . The surge of traffic eventually crashed the Independent‘s site.”

And now for one post-viral twist: In the wake of the photo’s web success and its republishing by other news outlets, Duann is looking into legal action against his own paper.  As Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon reports, Duann is “upset that the paper’s advisor, Gil Asakawa, allowed publications around the world to reproduce the photo, asking most outlets only for it to be credited to Duann and the CU Independent.”

Duann considers the bear shot his copyrighted property, even though he is on the paper’s staff and apparently supplied it willingly for the story it accompanied. Reporters and photographers are not paid at the Independent, and Duann told Beaujon he had not signed a contract outlining his specific rights in cases like this.

So the larger question broached here: For campus papers relying on student volunteers or lacking formal contracts (i.e. many campus papers), who is considered the owner of published content– the student creators or the papers?

Asakawa says that in this situation the paper owns the copyright, but top staff “had already decided that money they got for the photo would go to Duann.”

The bear is OK, by the way.

Update: SPLC’s take on the ownership question

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In a reporting experiment of sorts late last month, a student at Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University brazenly “stole” a bicycle in public, in broad daylight, in four locations including WLU’s campus.

The purpose, in part, reporter-thief Alanna Fairey shared in The Cord student newspaper, was to answer this question: “What would you do if you saw someone stealing a bike by the use of bolt cutters?  In a big open space with plenty of people, you’d assume someone would stop them; but as The Cord discovered on Mar. 26, that’s not exactly the case.  I am not the kind of person that would even steal a chocolate bar, let alone a bicycle. However, as an experiment, I went to several different locations in Waterloo to ‘steal’ a friend’s bike, just to see if others would try and stop me.  And the results were shocking.”

The staged report reminds me of a similar faux bike theft attempt featured in mid-March in The New York Times.  In both cases, the most common bystander reactions were purposeful ignorance or lighthearted curiosity, nothing more.  (See Kitty Genovese murder.)

As Fairey writes, “After my bike stealing adventures, I can conclude that it is relatively easy to steal a bike in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. People will stare and possibly ask questions, but no one confronted me aggressively or threatened to report me to the police.”

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