By: Joe Strupp
College paper plasters pages with a single message
When students at Texas Tech University in Lubbock opened copies of the school’s daily newspaper Sept. 9, they saw the
usual mix of ads, editorials, and announcements.
One thing was missing: the news.
Instead of filling its usual 10 pages of news and sports with student government stories, sports roundups, and feature articles, editors at the University Daily chose to reprint one word over and over: Censored.
The move was a protest against a Sept. 8 federal appeals court ruling that allowed Kentucky State University to keep more than 2,000 copies of a student-published yearbook, which campus officials there had confiscated in 1994. (E&P, Sept. 11, p. 10) Kentucky students battled in court for five years for the yearbooks to be distributed, claiming a First Amendment violation, but have yet to win.
At Texas Tech, University Daily Editor Wayne Hodgin said his staff chose to take the extreme measure because they believed the Kentucky ruling was harmful to all student journalists.
“We are taking a bold stand against this decision to let students at Kentucky State know we stand behind them,” says Hodgin, a 23-year-old senior. “We discussed it for about two hours before we made a decision, but we believed it was right.”
The 12-page broadsheet newspaper, printed Monday through Friday during the school year, sported its usual flag, masthead, and front-page design Sept. 9, but ran without teasers to inside stories or other news highlights. The only story published was on the Kentucky ruling, which appeared on Page One under the headline, “This Is Censorship.”
Hodgin also placed an editor’s note explaining the newspaper’s protest on the front page.
“On the following pages, you will see the word ‘censored’ repeated over and over,” the note stated. “This is our own form of self-censorship and in no way implies that we have been censored or restricted in any way by Texas Tech University personnel.”
The students also published an editorial that slammed the federal court ruling.
“This decision strips not only student media from our First Amendment rights, but also strips our audience of the right to be informed,” the editorial said.
Reaction to the protest, which affected all 14,000 copies of the daily newspaper, has been mixed. Although some journalism experts and observers praised the stance, critics, including several advertisers, described the move as overkill.
“They wanted to make a point, and they did,” says Mel Tittle, managing editor of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “But, it may be letting editorial slip over into news space.”
Texas Tech drama major Jeff Manns welcomed the action. “It seems pretty obvious that the court out there has its wires crossed,” the student told The Associated Press.”
The strongest opposition came from newspaper advertisers, who’ve been calling the University Daily to complain that they bought space in a newspaper without news. “I paid for advertising, and this makes it useless,” said Raef Reese, bar manager at the Fox & Hound Pub in Lubbock, who says he advertises in the college press because it’s cheaper than tv or radio. “It was a total waste of money for us, and we have a limited ad budget. It was a real blow.”
Connie Lopez, retail manager at a local Lenscrafters, agreed. “We paid for something visual to be in there, and it wasn’t,” she said. “A lot of our customers called us because they were upset.”
But some advertisers, such as Robert Lance Jewelers’ manager John Rogers, took the move in stride. “I don’t think it hurt us; our customers still saw our ad,” he said. “They knew what it was all about.”
The newspaper operates on a $900,000 annual budget, according to Hodgin, who said about 80% comes from advertising, and the remaining 20% from university funding.
Carla McKeown, the University Daily’s full-time adviser, said she discussed the planned protest with students but did not tell them what to do.
“I told them it was their decision and their right to do it,” McKeown said.
Hodgin said his staff was still talking to angry advertisers, but had yet to receive any outright refusals to pay for ads.
(Editor & Publisher WebSite:http:www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 18, 1999) [Caption]