Real journalism has no pause buttons, neither should student media
There’s nothing like the censorship of another campus newspaper to make me grateful for the Arizona Daily Wildcat’s tradition of editorial freedom.
This weekend, students at Florida A&M University launched inkandfangs.com, an underground website, run by former editors of The Famuan, the campus newspaper.
The paper’s first issue of the spring semester was set for Monday, but Ann Kimbrough, the dean of FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, announced she was suspending the paper’s publication until its staff completed training.
The announcement comes after the filing of a libel lawsuit against the paper last month. Unlike the Daily Wildcat, which enjoys independence from the UA’s School of Journalism, The Famuan falls under the umbrella of the journalism school at FAMU.
The libel suit that prompted the publication’s suspension accuses The Famuan of defamation in an article about the hazing death of a FAMU drum major. The December 2011 article incorrectly stated that Keon Hollis, another drum major, had been suspended in connection to the death of Robert Champion.
The article has since been removed from The Famuan’s website, and a correction that ran in February 2012 stated that no disciplinary action was taken against Hollis. But, in response to the suit, the school informed all staff members that they would need to reapply for their jobs, and that they would be required to undergo ethics and media law training before resuming publication.
“We are working to balance students’ rights to a free press through this process while also ensuring that The Famuan has the proper support from the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication as it serves as a training unit for up and coming journalists,” wrote Kimbrough in an email to the Student Press Law Center.
Because, you know, in real life, real journalists can just hit the pause button. “We’re being sued for libel? Stop everything.”
It doesn’t work like that. The beauty of the news is that it keeps happening, every day, and you can’t just “suspend” it until you feel comfortable again.
Besides, facing an unfolding libel lawsuit is certainly one way to learn about media law and ethics.
Seriously though, there is no better training than firsthand, hands-on experience. The Wildcat’s history is spotted with a wide variety of missteps and mistakes. The history of any student newspaper is pockmarked with them. That’s the great thing about independent student press — there is no handholding.
In much the same way you might brace yourself for some bruises while learning to ride a bike, or a scratch on the car the first time you learn to parallel park, learning something new takes some risk.
If the risk isn’t worth the reward, I do not know what I have been doing with the last three years of my life.
Still, despite the Orwellian, “it’s not censorship, it’s good teaching” rhetoric of FAMU administration, Ink and Fangs heralds new progress in student media.
The group formerly known as The Famuan staff was able to develop Ink and Fangs with help from staff members of the University of Georgia’s The Red and Black, who staged a walk-out in August 2012 and launched their own underground publication in response to concerns about student editors’ authority.
These efforts are reminiscent of freethehelmsman.com, a product of the University of Memphis’ Daily Helmsman staff in response last year to funding cuts related to content.
Yes, college newspapers are subjected to unreasonable restrictions by overreaching administrators every day. But Ink and Fangs, and movements like it, uphold student press freedoms.
As the staff of Ink and Fangs put it, we can all “look forward to a new era of open, stimulating communication.”
— Kristina Bui is the editor-in-chief of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter via @kbui1.