Let Freedom Reign? The Newpaper Chain Could Run N.C. College Paper

By: Graham Webster There are always debates about oversight and prior review at college newspapers, but the debate is getting much more interesting in New Bern, N.C., where a division of Freedom Communications could take over as the publisher of a college paper.

After editors at The Campus Communicator at Craven Community College in New Bern made two controversial decisions in six months, the school's administration tried to institute a policy that would grant it the right to review and reject articles prior to the monthly paper's publication.

That policy, which has not -- and may never -- go into effect, was unacceptable to student editors, who argued that they should not lose autonomy. After negotiations between editors and administrators, a compromise was proposed: the Communicator, which is owned by the students, would be licensed to Freedom ENC Communications, which publishes a local daily. Freedom would act as publisher of the paper and manage ad sales and production, college spokesman Sandy Wall said.

Or maybe not. The students are reluctant to go along with this deal, likening it to merely getting a different censor. And Freedom officials haven't reached the conclusion that it's a viable business proposition.

"We don't have a journalism program here at Craven Community College, and we thought this would be a way for our students to learn journalism from professional journalists," Wall, who said he was a reporter for more than 15 years, told E&P.

In addition to managing the financial side of the Communicator, Wall said, editors at Freedom's Sun Journal would act as an advisory committee for the student journalists.

Vernon DeBolt, publisher of the Sun Journal and president of Freedom ENC Communications, the division of Freedom that publishes the Sun Journal, told E&P that , after running the draft agreement by Freedom's lawyers, the company is deciding whether the paper is a reasonable business decision. He said it's still an open question whether ad sales managed by Freedom would be enough to break even.

The student editors were initially receptive to the licensing solution, William R. Toler, managing editor for the Communicator, said Tuesday. "On its face, the deal looked like a really great deal," Toler said. But after the students consulted with the Arlington, Va.-based Student Press Law Center and other advisers, they soured on the plan.

"The drawback is that really we wouldn't be a student paper," Toler said. "As somebody put it, we're sort of trading one censor for another."

DeBolt said Freedom's editorial oversight would be minimal. "The editor would attend budget meetings, and we would offer guidance and suggestions," DeBolt said. "But there was never going to be any censorship."

Freedom might, however, block content it deems potentially libelous. "It would be like any newspaper that tries to keep itself from getting sued," he said. That, DeBolt says, is not censorship, but good journalism.

If Freedom does agree to the proposal, the deal is still subject to the approval of the college's trustees. Meanwhile, Toler said they hope to finalize the Communicator's regular May issue Tuesday.


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