It’s a badge of honor of sorts when a reporter is named in a lawsuit. It means the reporter is asking tough questions and digging in areas officials want to hide.
Perhaps I should clarify this statement. It’s a badge of honor when a reporter is named in a lawsuit as long as the reporter used sound reporting methods and knows there’s no cause for retribution. I can only imagine that it’s terrifying if the lawsuit has legitimacy.
Most of the time officials use lawsuits to silence the critical press while attempting to defend their damaged reputations. Lawsuits are a fancy, more expensive form of censorship.
Reporters sometimes apologize, especially to media management, but they probably don’t mean it. They’re proud of the work they’ve done. They earned a reporter badge. It’s not an easy thing to do.
A new kind of badge of success seems to be developing in collegiate media. Apparently you’re not a good adviser unless you’ve been fired.
School administrators increasingly are using adviser reassignment or termination as a method for silencing the critical student media. The concept seems to be that by ousting the person really in charge (not true, although perceived), the administration can censor students without that nasty adviser protesting publicly.
Allow me to offer a few examples with help from my friends at Student Press Law Center .
Ron was the first brilliant adviser penalized for student content after I became a college media adviser myself and started paying attention to such things.
Ron, the long-time adviser of The Collegian at Kansas State University, was reassigned in 2004 after university officials said the student newspaper was lacking diverse content. According to this story from SPLC:
Todd Simon, director of the school of journalism at Kansas State University, later said Johnson had been dismissed as adviser, in part, because the “overall quality” of the paper had gone down. Simon had compared theCollegian to other comparable college newspapers, he said, and found it to be lacking.
These quality claims followed a controversy because The Collegian did not report on a diversity leadership conference on campus. Student editors at the time said not covering the conference was a mistake. Student protesters also “objected to the newspaper’s publication of a headline they considered racially insensitive and a comment from the call-in line, a system in which anonymous readers call in to voice opinions, that they considered racist,” according to this SPLC story.
The university admitted that its own policies gave control of the student publication to the students and prohibited the adviser from interfering, but reassigned Ron anyway. The reassignment was despite Ron’s positive evaluations.
Two of his former editors sued school administrators on Ron’s behalf, although he did not participate in the lawsuit. The editors said the reassignment violated their First Amendment rights, but the lawsuit was dismissed after courts said their rights as students could not be questioned post-graduation.
My impression of Ron after meeting him, dining with him and listening to him speak at several college media conferences is that he has more talent in his pinkie finger than most people do in their entire bodies.
It looks like Kansas State’s loss was Indiana’s gain.
I grappled for about five seconds before deciding whether to put Michael Koretzky on this list. Saying that Koretzky’s methods are radical would be an enormous understatement. I don’t always agree with Koretzky’s foul-mouthed, camouflage-wearing, cigar-smoking approach (see, for example, the Unethical Press), but there is no doubt that he knows his stuff, he gets students’ attention and he helps ignite passion for journalism, something not easily done with today’s fickle students.
Administrators cited a “desire to improve media” as justification for Michael’s termination. It seems more likely that the termination was a result of years of ongoing conflict between the university’s student media and student government.
Part of the media improvements were said to be changes in the “current staffing structure.”
Michael’s firing left the student media without an adviser so, much to administrators’ chagrin, Michael has volunteered in that capacity since his termination.
Since his termination, Michael’s leadership resulted in, among other things, the University Press being featured by the Poynter Institute‘s Jim Romenesko and across national media for an issue of the newspaper published without technology.
Not too shabby for a misfit!
The latest in the series of firings as censorship shocked me.
Campus administrators terminated Bradley after repurposing the position as “director” instead of “coordinator.” Apparently Bradley, who had led the student media since 2003, is not qualified for the altered job directing The Technician.
The change is, more likely, less about Bradley’s abilities and more about a censorship issue earlier this summer.
Bradley said he plans to use this time to complete his Ph.D. He took time to email those of us who commented about his firing, speaking to his character and professionalism.
I have known Bradley since before I first met him. As a member of College Media Advisers, he frequently has provided sound advice to those of us seeking help via the list-serv. I used many of his helpful handouts in my teaching. I also modeled the first ever Student Publications Manual at Oklahoma City University after the one Bradley created at North Carolina State.
I hope Bradley takes his amazing levels of talent and uses them at a school that understands the resource they have.
These three men have more in common than censorship via termination. They all care deeply about student journalists and their ability to do their jobs free of censorship. They understand that student press decisions belong to the students, and they defend those students, even during times when they likely did not agree with their decisions. They are all strong student media advisers who (perhaps unwillingly) went down with the ship. It’s just a shame that they had to do so because the students they advise are those who needed them most.
University administrators must recognize the importance of free expression, especially in the academy. As U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan pointed out in Barber v. Dearborn, students benefit from the marketplace of ideas.
“Students benefit when school officials provide an environment where they can openly express their diverging viewpoints and when they learn to tolerate the opinions of others.”
University administrators also must understand that free expression is protected for all speech, not just that with which they agree. As Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, famously said:
“The notion of neutrality is key. You cannot have freedom of speech only for ideas that you like and people that you like.”
Finally, university administrators must understand that student medias’ purpose is not to promote the university or make it look good to the public. This is the function of public relations, not journalism.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
What do you think of universities terminating collegiate media advisers for publication content concerns? Should student journalists be concerned with university public relations?