Students find independence tricky
When former editors at the university-sponsored newspaper, the Chronicle, leaped to an independent, online-only newspaper, Quinnipiac University officials in Hamden, Conn., isolated themselves from the student journalists.
The fall 2008 semester brought many problems for the Quad News, the newly independent paper. Interviews with university officials were off-limits.
Along with 15 editors and 25 contributors, Jason Braff, a senior and editor in chief of the Quad News, kept covering news stories without the cooperation of university officials.
“We have to continue covering the stories we want to cover,” said Braff. “They may not be as good as we hope, since we don’t have the access we would like.”
In September, Daniel W. Brown, student center director, told the student chapter of Society of Professional Journalists that its status as a registered student organization on campus was in danger if it continued to interact with the Quad News. The threat was made after Quad News personnel used a campus meeting room that had been booked by SPJ.
Kendra Butters, co-managing editor at the Quad News, said the reserved room in question was approved and that is why the Quad News used it, but the room was later denied. She said the explanation of the room’s use mentioned the paper. After the threat, the university chapter of the SPJ said it would continue to support the Quad News. Now the newspaper staff meets in the cafeteria.
In a letter to university officials, the national SPJ expressed its concern for the threat. The letter emphasized that banning the SPJ would hurt the university’s reputation as an institution that respects the First Amendment rights of students, faculty and staff.
Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, responded with an e-mail to the university student body that explained the situation and accused the Quad News of trying to put the Chronicle out of business.
“It soon became clear that the real intentions of the students involved in this online-only paper / blog were decidedly hostile: they aggressively sought to undermine the continued existence of a University-supported newspaper for students,” said Bushnell in the memo.
Bushnell pointed out that the Quad News is not a registered student organization, and it has to be independent from the university in all aspects.
“These students want to be independent of the university when it involves student organizational rules and responsibilities, but they want to be part of the university when it comes to having access to university resources and the privileges of being a recognized student organization,” she said. “Unfortunately, in the real world, responsibility and playing by the rules go hand in hand with the privileges of membership.”
Student editors at the Quad News had no First Amendment recourse to challenge the university’s tactics, because the First Amendment does not regulate the conduct of private actors.
“It makes all the difference if we’re talking about public or private, because private is not governed by the First Amendment,” said Ronald Collins, scholar at the First Amendment Center.
Collins said that any type of censorship is a bad idea, but as a private institution, Quinnipiac has the right to do whatever it wants.
While Braff may not have the help of university officials, the Quad News has received help and donations from alumni.
“They should continue what they are doing and be sure they get their facts straight,” Collins said. “Probably, the best way to deal with this kind of censorship is to get faculty members, alumni and local papers to speak out.”
In October, the New York Times wrote an editorial denouncing the threat against SPJ. The editorial resulted in the university lifting its threat.
“While there were some disagreements, occasionally vigorous, with the student newspaper (Quad News) last year and at the beginning of this year, those differences were resolved,” Bushnell wrote in the letter.
Jaclyn Hirsch, president of the SPJ and co-managing editor of the Quad News, said she received a conciliatory letter from Brown, and she looks forward to working with the administration.
She said the Quad News has met with administrators to open communication. By the end of the fall semester, the newspaper had a good relationship with the university.
“It is good to see the work pay off in the end,” Hirsch said.
reports, Winter 2008-09