By: Nu Yang
Q: To what extent should administrators of public universities have the right to censor student newspapers that receive funding as part of their university affiliation?
Saba Hamedy, 21, class of 2013, Boston University
Hamedy is double majoring in journalism and political science. She was editor-in-chief of the independent B.U. student newspaper The Daily Free Press in fall 2011. She has held internships at The Christian Science Monitor, The Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, World Travel Guide in London, and The Santa Monica (Calif.) Mirror. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, Patch, Mysecretboston.com, and Boston.com/TNGG.
A: The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. Last I checked, student journalists were not excluded from that. However, the sad reality student journalists at non-independent publications must face is that universities have obtained the right to exercise censorship and prior restraint, because they are the newspaper’s primary sources of revenue. But this does not mean students should tolerate it.
As a former editor of Boston University’s independent newspaper, The Daily Free Press, I firmly believe that independence as a college publication is vital to its existence. If a publication is not independent, the only real thing that can be done to battle censorship is to fight for your paper’s right to publish. Though funding is what fuels newspaper revenue, there are always alternative ways to increase funding without decreasing coverage.
Similarly, regardless of who or what is funding a publication, providing full coverage to readers should remain a priority for all journalists, even student journalists. Reporters should not creep around the truth to please anyone, especially if it means hiding important news from readers. This journalistic value is even more important to follow in the 21st century, a time when people can easily look to blogs that publish whatever falsehoods they want without risking libel suits. Now, because people look to newspapers for their credibility, it is an injustice to censor stories of any kind.
When administrators make decisions on behalf of school newspapers, it is as if they forget the First Amendment even exists. However, it’s not up to the administrators to determine a journalist’s right. It is the role of a journalist to cover everything and anything newsworthy — and to sacrifice that, means sacrificing the credibility and value of a newspaper.
Daniel Reimold, 32, Ph.D., University of Tampa
Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism and a student newspaper adviser, who has taught reporting, editing, and digital media at universities in the U.S. and Southeast Asia. He maintains the leading student journalism blog College Media Matters (collegemediamatters.com) and is the author of the textbook “Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age” (Routledge, 2013).
A: Universities — public or private, large or small — should have no right to censor the student media operating on their campuses — even those they fund, house, and allow distribution.
Schools should grant student newspapers basic press freedoms for the same reason they field football teams with pads. Without them, students get hurt. They then become more cautious, undoubtedly affecting their performance. And they subsequently fail to learn the game the way it should be played.
At most schools, plenty of student press pads — or safeguards — already exist. Faculty advisers, business managers, for-credit practicums, campus media boards, and student activities fee committees all provide financial and editorial supervision.
By censoring, administrators bypass these safeguards, making them seem just as unimportant as the student press itself. To maintain a student newspaper is to recognize it will examine the school closely, possibly criticize those in power, and, yes, even occasionally make mistakes.
The student press is imperfect. So is the professional press. So are college administrators. So is life. And that’s wonderful. It’s the imperfections that lead us to discovery — how to subsequently do things better, more carefully consider the implications of our actions, and muster the courage to move forward.
The latter part is key. Censorship is cowardly. For administrators, the courageous act is to allow students to continue, unabated, imperfect, with offerings of support and better education along the way.
If those ideals are too high-minded, though, here’s the self-interest angle: Schools should not censor, because they are not good at it.
There has been no situation in the past decade in which a university’s student press censorship has been applauded as just and ensured the censored content remained hidden. Instead, the censorship results in more and more critical, media coverage — and thus more attention for whatever they were attempting to censor.