EDITORIAL: Student newspapers play vital role in protecting students
The First Amendment rights of students at Florida A&M Univesity were abruptly taken away last Tuesday. Administrators shut down the student newspaper for one month of unpaid training in reaction to a mistake published in the newspaper over a year ago.
You might recall the incident at Florida A&M in November 2011 when band member Robert Champion was beaten to death by band mates on a bus returning from a football game as part of a hazing ritual. In a story about the death published two months after the incident, the campus newspaper, The Famuan, ran a story incorrectly stating Keon Hollis had been suspended for being a suspect in the assault in early 2012. On Dec. 3, 2011, Hollis filed a libel lawsuit against the university and the paper.
It is beyond question that the Famuan made a mistake, but removing the speech and press liberties of student journalists injures the newspaper and the FAMU student body. Students lose their voice on campus when the newspaper is shut down.
This case is simple. If the administration wanted to encourage training, the staff at the Famuan should be paid and the training held before the start of the semester. The lack of compensation and the timing of the lawsuit suggest the shut down is a punishment for the Hollis error, which occurred when most of the current Famuan staff were not part of the paper. First Amendment rights cannot be taken away as punishment. If you agree please contact Ann Kimbrough, dean of the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, and urge her to reinstate the Famuan.
Student journalists at Oklahoma State University broke one of the most impactful stories of governmental cover-up in Oklahoma in the past year.
Reporters at The Daily O’Collegian, also called the O’Colly, uncovered a series of alleged sexual assaults by one perpetrator, which university officials knew about but did not report to police. The O’Colly journalists’ investigation alerted Stillwater police, who began an investigation.
The O’Colly showed student journalism is a vital part of any university community. OSU student journalists helped gain justice for past victims and potentially saved others from harm.
The accused individual, Nathan Cochran, is facing four counts of sexual battery for incidents dating back to Nov. 3, 2011.
Instead of notifying police on Nov. 12, when students filed assault reports with the university, OSU officials held internal student conduct proceedings and suspended Cochran for three years. At this point, Stillwater police had no knowledge of the assaults.
After receiving an anonymous email tip, the O’Colly, as part of its investigation of the story, contacted police and described the alleged incidents. Stillwater police then contacted OSU officials, who gave vague references to the incidents but no specifics. Stillwater police then opened an investigation that led them to the victims.
It would have been easy for the reporters at the O’Colly to dismiss an anonymous email, especially when the university was reluctant to share information. OSU originally cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as justification for withholding information but there is nothing in FERPA directly preventing disclosure of this type of legislation to law enforcement, according to language in FERPA.
Student journalists at OSU challenged this assertion and, in the process, alerted police to the existence of potential victims of sexual assault.
Most stories researched by student media do not result in criminal investigations but providing an open forum for student voices allowed the O’Colly to receive the tip that led to an investigation. A strong student journalism program acts as a watchdog on administrators and an advocate for student concerns.
Student journalists at any school can have a strong impact. This is your chance to join us in the effort for truth and transparency at the The Oklahoma Daily. If you have any information that university administrators have ignored, The Daily can be your voice. If you want to join us in the effort towards greater accountability and transparency, we invite you become a student journalist and make a difference.