Former staff starts independent newspaper after college postpones printing campus paper 'indefinitely'

GEORGIA -- As students returned to classes Monday at Macon State College, they found the bins of their student newspaper, The Matrix, empty, but with former editors nearby distributing copies of an independent paper, The Student Free Press.

Rising tensions at the newspaper led the editorial board to resign in May, but many of the students planned to return to the paper as writers. Trouble began when a new Publications Coordinator was hired about a year ago and personalities clashed. Former editor in chief Jenny Murr said when she approached Ray Lightner, the publications coordinator, about adding new distribution bins across campus, he said the newspaper was not good enough.

At a planning session Aug. 11, Lightner announced to the students that The Matrix would be on an indefinite hiatus because the college had to create bylaws for student media.

After the editors chose not to return, the college decided to rethink its media policies, said Lynn McCraney, dean of students.

"What we found that we needed to do was go back to square one so that future students in [the editors'] position didn't face those same problems," McCraney said.

Earlier this summer, the college decided the Student Affairs committee, a part of the Academic Council, would review a proposed publications policy that will create a media advisory board.

"We've not had comprehensive bylaws. We've not had a publications committee or any type of governing authority for our newspaper before," McCraney said. "We've not had a structure. We've not had any type of documentation or any type of foundation that clearly details that students have the right to choose what material they're going to print without being sanctioned or punished because someone didn't like what they wrote."

After hearing about the postponement, Murr and other students created their own paper. The first issue was printed using home-computer printers in a flier style. The staff handed out about 500 copies across campus on the first day of class and picked up about 10 more members. But the organization hopes to raise some advertising money and get the paper printed from the same printer The Matrix used.

The paper will change the publication schedule from weekly to bi-weekly but continue to distribute to the college's second campus, Warner Robins, 30 miles away. Judd Printing, the paper's printer, has agreed to print The Student Free Press in black and white for $155 for a four-page paper or $170 for an eight-page paper, Murr said.

McCraney said she was happy the students were creating their own paper, but hopes when the school newspaper returns they will decide to work for it.

"One of the wonderful things about working in a college community is that it is a safe place for people to be able to speak their minds and express themselves about various issues," she said.

McCraney said The Matrix should be able to print by early September or mid-term once the college opens applications for editor in chief and that person can put together a staff.

The new bylaws will cover the newspaper, the television station and the literary magazine, but the newspaper is the only student media organization not publishing as school begins. McCraney said the other organizations have not had any issues like the newspaper.

Murr said students who wanted to be involved with the newspaper were encouraged to work with the television station while they wait for The Matrix to print again.

But Murr and a group of about 15 to 20 students did not want to wait. The students felt that the delay in publication was a means of the college suppressing their speech. The situation between the college and newspaper staff had gone from "bad to worse," Murr said.

"They are trying any way they can to get around the rights of the students and the free press," Murr said.

McCraney disagreed. She said the postponement was to ensure that the students maintained their rights.

"This college respects the rights of students to run a free newspaper," she said. "What we do want to do is provide them a document and a structure and a format that clearly lays out their rights as members of the press and their corollary responsibilities."

As a senior communications information technology student, Murr thought she would spend this school year preparing to graduate and find a job. Instead she has found herself in a fight she did not want to be in to ensure future students have the right to a free press after she leaves.

"I want to bow out and give them the strong legs so that when I'm not a part of it anymore, they can keep going," Murr said.

Georgia, Macon State College, news, The Matrix, The Student Free Press