Photo credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk
Students doing more journalism in the “teaching hospital” model is a win for journalism education. But if universities want more from their student journalists, they should do more for them. That means legally protecting them even when the community and police don’t. Nationwide, universities are rightfully touting the benefits of the teaching hospital model. Yet students are missing from this debate.
Even if they weren’t interested in filling local news gaps with actual journalism, universities would seem to be obvious supporters and protectors of their students. Their roots, after all, are in freedom and learning. Ironically (and sadly) universities are often the first to challenge their own students for fear they might cause legal problems.
According to Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, most censorship complaints boil down to students vs. administration. The Knight-funded center serves students who believe they have been censored or denied access to public information. LoMonte estimated that about 70 percent of calls to their hotline are on censorship and public information issues, with the school or college administration being the culprit.
What happens to student journalists? Schools have, for example, removed newspaper racks from campus, cut funding for school newspapers, locked out radio station staff members and restricted students from circling a petition around campus. Organizations such as the Student Press Law Center serve as valuable resources for students who feel their rights have been encroached upon.
It is not just the administration that tries to control student-run media. At times, community leaders are the problem. Recently, the staff of the independent University of Georgia newspaper, Red and Black, a non-profit corporation, walked out when it discovered a memo from a board member saying faculty must play a larger role in what would be published in the paper. The stated reason: an attempt to turn around a decline in readership. After the walkout, students created a website called Red and Dead where they covered their own story. After the outcry, the memo was dropped and the Red and Black editor-in-chief and managing editor returned.