Student journalists at college and university newspapers are facing consequences for reporting on concerns that show their schools in a negative light, according to a report from the American Association of University Professors.
The report, endorsed by the College Media Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Student Press Law Center, focused in on two examples of students facing backlash after doing their jobs.
In one well-documented case at the University of Missouri, a student journalist and videographer were threatened with “muscle” by an assistant professor as they tried to cover protests at the university. At Wesleyan University, a student who wrote an opinion piece critical of the Black Lives Matter movement was harassed, and the student government slashed the paper’s funding for publishing the piece.
These two incidents were not isolated, the AAUP report found:
It has become disturbingly routine for student journalists and their advisers to experience overt hostility that threatens their ability to inform the campus community and, in some instances, imperils their careers or the survival of their publications. Administrative efforts to subordinate campus journalism to public relations are inconsistent with the mission of higher education to provide a space for intellectual exploration and debate.
The report notes a March 2016 survey of college and university media advisers in which more than 20 advisers said school administrators attempted to control content by student journalists. The advisers would not share their stories out of fear of retaliation. Even tenured professors are afraid to speak up, the survey found.
The AAUP report includes a list of other examples of colleges and universities stifling student journalists and punishing advisers. At Fairmont State University in West Virginia, journalism adviser Michael Kelly was “removed” after nine months on the job when he let the student newspaper run a two-part series about mold in a campus dorm. Kelly had been warned that the paper should focus on positive stories.
In addition to advisers being removed, entire publications have been punished. At the University of Kansas, editors at the student newspaper sued after school administrators admitted cutting the paper’s funding in half due to unfavorable commentary.
The report also found cases in which student journalists were denied access to key university meetings:
Even where student journalists are not directly barred from publishing unflattering information, image-conscious institutions may often achieve the same result by choking off access to information, at times in defiance of state laws guaranteeing the public, which includes student media, access to government meetings and documents.
Student journalists are often the ones best able to report on college and university matters. They know the schools best and are in the best position to know about and attend events and meetings. Cutting off their access not only hurts students, alumni and donors, but also goes against the First Amendment.
Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte told Politico that colleges and universities are “obsessed” with looking good in the eyes of the public:
We need a top-level commitment from the presidents of America’s colleges and universities to support editorially independent student-run news coverage, including secure funding and retaliation protection for students and their advisers.
Cross-posted from Watchdog.org/Ashe Schow