Posts Tagged ‘Free Press’

The Student Press Law Center has been valiantly raising awareness of a court battle that its executive director Frank LoMonte calls “a gigantic case that hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves.”

The case: Tatro v. University of Minnesota.

The gist, according to an SPLC report: “Amanda Tatro, a former student in the mortuary sciences department at the University of Minnesota, posted comments to her Facebook wall in November and December 2009 about ‘playing’ with her cadaver in her anatomy course and wanting ‘to stab a certain someone in the throat with a trocar,’ a needle-like embalming tool. . . . The university filed a formal complaint against Tatro in late December 2009, alleging her comments were threatening and in violation of the rules of the mortuary science program. . . . [A UM committee] ruled that Tatro must take an F in the anatomy course, undergo a psychiatric evaluation and be placed on academic probation.”  Tatro is suing the school for violating her free speech rights.

The larger implications: Tatro made the apparently sarcastic comments on her personal social network, off campus.  Should schools be allowed to monitor and punish students for their social media behavior simply because they find it distasteful?

A higher ed. environment suffused with a watch-what-you-say-about-your-school-at-all-times-especially-if-it’s-critical mindset does not exactly scream First Amendment.   The related consequences for campus media are also potentially enormous.

In a recent opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, LoMonte argues, “If the justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court lose sight of the larger constitutional issues, the outcome in the case could give colleges virtually limitless authority to silence speech critical of their programs, no matter where it is uttered. . . . While colleges clearly may discipline students for off-campus criminal behavior, the idea that colleges have free-floating good-citizenship authority to punish lawful behavior that administrators subjectively deem ‘disruptive’ is breathtaking in its potential for abuse.”

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It took a bit more than a week.  It hovered around the edges of it over the last few days.  And now it has officially become not just a saga but a full-blown soap opera.  My suggested title: The Fired and the Tactless. 

The latest bit of news in the continuing story of ousted East Carolina University student media director Paul Isom is a public sparring between Isom and the school over his personnel records.  The school wants to release them to the media to apparently prove his termination was not related to The East Carolinian‘s publication of the controversial streaker photos months before.  ECU needs Isom’s permission to unseal those records for public disclosure.

Isom has expressed his anger, however, that the school has apparently told the media it wants to release the records without ever talking to him about it privately.  As he told The News & Observer, “If they have an explanation to provide to the rest of the world, show it to me first.  I’ll decide whether or not I’ll waive my rights after I see their explanation. . . . This is an insulting way to treat a member of the ECU community.”


East Carolina Fired Director-Streaker Saga Update: A School Statement and a CMA Inquiry

East Carolina Journalism Faculty, FIRE, SPLC Rally Around Ousted Student Media Director

Former East Carolina Student Media Director Considers Lawsuit, Other Options to Contest Firing

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How open should the higher education administration hiring process be? When is a position at a college or university influential enough to warrant public and student press scrutiny of candidates’ remarks while they are on campus?

The Daily Gazette at Swarthmore College recently faced a related student press roadblock.  In late January, the newspaper’s editorial board wrote:

The second candidate for Dean of Students will be speaking at Swarthmore tonight. We encourage you to attend, because you will not be able to read our coverage of the event.  The administration has forbidden the student press, including the Gazette and the Phoenix, from reporting on the candidates for Dean of Student’s chats with students. Their decision denies those students who will not be able to attend tomorrow night’s event any chance at having a say in, or having a clear idea of, which Dean they would like to represent them. We are writing this piece to register our profound disappointment at the administration’s decision, to demonstrate our disagreement with the logic of their position, and to explain to our readers why we have decided to honor the request in the first place.

It is about access, and respecting the student voice.  Open access fights have interestingly been one of the main themes emerging among campus media this semester.  (Example 1.  Example 2.)

Job candidate visits absolutely do require a special set of reporting ethics, as the Gazette explained: “Some of the candidates had not made their candidacy public at their home institution, and it would certainly be unfair if, by reporting on the event, the Gazette jeopardized any of these candidate’s jobs.  Further, the administration was worried that later candidates might gain an advantage over earlier ones by reading press reports, and, presumably, learning more about the ins and outs of the process, and the types of the things the Swarthmore student body liked to hear.”

Both concerns are extremely valid, and an agreement was reached to limit access to reporting on the event to those on campus.  The Gazette admits that an oversight leaving an article on the first candidate’s visit unrestricted led the administration to become extra cautious, stifling student press from providing any coverage for the second candidate’s speech.

It is imperative that parts of job searches at certain levels of a school remain closed.  But even most faculty candidates nowadays teach a mock class or deliver a public research talk that could trigger campus news coverage.  A candidate for dean should not be immune from such scrutiny.  The Gazette‘s argument: “The purpose of student journalism is not to serve the interests of the Dean’s Search Committee, or those of the administration more generally, but to report news that is critical and relevant to the student body. This is one such news story. It is imperative that students learn as much information, from as many sources as possible, about the candidates in contention to represent them as Dean of Students.”

What do you think??

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The dining halls at Syracuse University are at long last deliciously free of student press censorship.  A report in the SU’s Daily Orange (via Paper Trailsconfirms the reversal of a long-held policy by the school’s Food Services allowing distribution of only the Orange in student dining halls.  Food Services staffers did not have a problem with competing pubs, they just did not like the added waste.

Or at least that has been the official word.  The real story is even less appetizing- brought to light by Jerk, a monthly SU student magazine that also sports a blog with a beyond impressive amount of updates.  Jerk editor said she was recently stopped from distributing the current issue of the magazine in a dining hall by a Food Services employee, solely because the employee did not like the content.

Lorraine Branham, the dean of SU’s Newhouse School of Public Communications: “It was clear that it was a policy that wasn’t being enforced for years. This policy was unwritten, unknown and the magazine had distributed (in dining centers) for years. If you actually thought about it, it made no sense. Someone was suddenly making it a problem because of something they saw in the magazine.”

The university chancellor has now publicly confirmed the cancellation of the policy, enabling Jerk and other Orange alternatives to be consumed by interested students.  (Check out a brief video report detailing the Jerk removal incident.)

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A “racial state of emergency” has been declared and funding for all school-supported student media has been frozen at the University of California, San Diego in the immediate aftermath of a racist campus event coupled with a televised racist slur.

Late last week, the editor of the Koala, a controversial UCSD student humor newspaper “everyone loves to hate,” used the phrase “ungrateful n***ers” (the derogatory term for African Americans) while speaking on the publication’s campus television program. The on-air n-word stirred student anger already brewing over a controversial campus party, called the “Compton Cookout,” whose main theme was an overt mockery of Black History Month. (One report: “An invitation to the party urged participants to dress and act like ‘ghetto chicks’ by speaking loudly, starting fights and wearing cheap clothes.”)

Apparently the Koala has a history of, ahem, boundary pushing, on air and in print.  As the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “In years past, Koala TV has been temporarily unplugged at least once for airing pornographic material.  The Koala publication has poked fun at Muslims, Latinos and Asians for years, and has been repeatedly criticized by the administration.”  On its homepage, a current message brazenly makes fun of the brouhaha and the outrage it has sparked, including this faux admonition: “The Koala would like to condemn the organizers of the Compton Cookout. If history has shown us anything, you need more black people at your party to have enough black-on-black violence to actually justify the  name ‘Compton.’   Shame on you.  SHAME.”

The cover of the current Koala issue.

While the UCSD administration attempts to calm an understandably enraged minority student contingent, the student government is irrationally pulling pursestrings- temporarily suspending the school’s student media funding.  Not just funding for the Koala, but 33 student media outlets at the university.

My head cocked to the left in confusion as I read about this action, and I have not yet come across an explanation suitable enough to straighten it back up. As best as I can tell, it seems to be a political maneuver meant to placate angry students by showing their concerns about racism have engendered prompt action, along with being an act of recognition that student media played a part in the current “emergency state.”  As the student government president said, In any game where the players are getting hurt, you hit the pause button.” The problem though is that this pause has terrible free press consequences.

The Guardian, the UCSD student newspaper, which is not funded by the university, penned a fantastic editorial response, noting in part: “Because [the student government president] is aware it’s near impossible to seek immediate alternative funds, he therefore must be aware he is essentially censoring all existing publications. . . . If there’s one thing the American Civil Liberties Union and Vice Chancellor of Student Life Penny Rue (not to mention any good therapist) can agree on, it’s that more speech- not less- is most beneficial to a hurting community.”

Or in other words, to borrow from the Koala‘s current online message: “Shame on you.  SHAME.”

(Note: This is the second free press issue this semester involving UC student governments.  Read about the other one here.)

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The Northerner has apologized for running the Resistance. The Northern Kentucky University student newspaper issued a mea culpa for featuring an advertisement in two recent issues for Resistance Records, which sells “white supremacist music” (I’m putting that in quotes because I do not know and do not even want to know what that might entail).

The Louisville Courier-Journal: The paper’s editor “found out there was a problem with the advertisement . . . when he got a voice mail from a reporter at a local television station. He quickly researched the business and discovered that it sold white supremacist and neo-Nazi music.” Apparently, a few people sent in e-mail complaints and one individual came to the paper’s newsroom in person to register an objection. The editor: “It was a mistake on our part not to research the ad enough. It’s our responsibility to research our clients if it seems a little weird or a little sketchy. It was a total honest mistake.”

An apology has been issued by the paper, with the top editor stating in part: “While it is not illegal to run ads of this nature, we at The Northerner see it as an ethical issue.  We do not wish to be in business with groups or organizations that promote any form of racism, sexism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination. While issues of this nature are dependent on who runs The Northerner each semester, it was my decision that the paper, for this semester, will not advertise with this business or other businesses like it.”

My take: Hey, it happens. Yes, more research should have been done upfront, but some things will inevitably slip through the cracks within the deadline multi-tasking hell that is student newspapering in the second half of a semester.  I applaud the editor and staff for handling the situation with class. The newspaper chose the correct route- full disclosure, return of the money, a front-and-center apology (literally atop the homepage right now), and a spirit of learn-as-you-go-do-better-next-time embedded in every word.

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More than four months after staffers at The Emerald, the University of Oregon student newspaper, staged a high-profile, socially-networked strike over the hiring of an outside publisher, an outside publisher (with an insider’s credibility) has been named.

According to The Eugene Register-Guard, the student paper’s board voted unaminously to hire Kellee Weinhold after a national search and a looksy at 80 candidates.  Understatement time: Weinhold *knows* the UO and Eugene media scenes.  In fact, she probably bleeds green and yellow.  She earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from the university, taught journalism courses there, and spent time at both The Oregonian and Eugene Weekly.  She may or may not even own a pet duck.

As CMM and other outlets reported back in March, the Emerald temporarily stopped publishing in protest of its board’s attempts to name a publisher without properly addressing the publisher’s power over editorial content and possible conflicts of interest in respect to the person’s affiliation with the university.  Mediation ensued, an agreement was reached, and printing resumed.  And the latest step forward is Weinhold, an individual whom Emeraldites are expressing optimism about.

Current Emerald EIC (and former strike organizer) Allie Grasgreen says in a piece on the paper’s Web site: “I’m psyched to start working with Kellee. Her passion for college journalism is infectious, and she has the drive, ideas and understanding of media we need.”

Weinhold’s related PR statement: “I am excited to be joining such a storied program at a time of critical change for journalism. I look forward to supporting UO student journalists as they shape the future of the industry.”

Results of the new arrangement are of course still to be determined. I give her credit for excellently wording her introductory quote. Her role should be in support.  And most important, to any outside publisher: Let the students do the shaping.

Best of luck.

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