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Student newspapers react to media policies
At the start of the spring 2007 semester the Quinnipiac University administration instittuted a policy restricting The Chronicle Web site from being updated at any given time.
The policy stated that www.quchronicle.com can only be updated simultaneously with the hard copy. Later in 2007 another policy issued by the university’s Office of Public Affairs stated that members of the administration are required to instruct any member of the media, including the university’s student media, looking for an interview to send their questions to Lynn Bushnell, the vice president for public affairs, or John Morgan, the associate vice president for public affairs.
These unique policies have been criticized by The Chronicle in its opinion section, and have been defended by Quinnipiac administrators. But what do The Chronicle’s peers at other institutions think about the policies? The student newspapers of other private universities in Connecticut, including Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University, both in Fairfield, The University of Hartford in West Hartford, and Wesleyan University in Middletown, told The Chronicle how things are done at their respective universities.
Senior media studies major Brian Fitzsimmons, editor-in-chief of Sacred Heart University’s independently run student newspaper The Spectrum, has a very clear definition of his newspaper’s mission.
“The role of The Spectrum is to convey local news to the campus in a wide array of sections: News, Arts and Entertainment, Perspectives, Features and Sports,” Fitzsimmons said. “It is our mission to put out a good paper that people can learn from and enjoy. Without it, the campus would be uneducated about local media,”
Senior philosophy and Italian studies major Mollie Laffin-Rose, editor-in-chief for Wesleyan University’s independent student newspaper The Wesleyan Argus, has a similar definition for her newspaper’s goal. “To try to report on everything from the student realm as well as the administration’s realm in the most accurate and thorough manner,” said Laffin-Rose.
The mission of these newspapers does not differ greatly from The Chronicle, but what is different is that the reporters on these newspapers are able to directly interview key administrators on campus.
Administrators aren’t always easy to get information from, according to Laffin-Rose, but they are still available. “Administration and faculty are hesitant to speak to The Argus, as they often feel they are misquoted. However, we do have reporters talking to anyone from the vice president to financial directors and administrators every week,” Laffin-Rose said.
Sacred Heart’s newspaper, The Spectrum, also has free access to administrators. There is an interviewing policy in place at Fairfield University through which reporters that are unclear about who the best source might be for their story e-mail the Public Relations Department. The department then directs the e-mail to the person best suited to answer the question. Finally, the administrator gets in touch with the reporter and the interviewing process resumes from there.
Senior English major Stephanie Lauto, who is editor-in-chief of Fairfield University’s student newspaper The Mirror, expressed apprehension about Quinnipiac’s interview policy.
“My biggest concern is that Quinnipiac’s interviewing policy leaves no room for follow-up questions and so much can be lost in translation. Also, if the Public Relations department is concerned with screening questions, don’t they think the source is capable of doing so themselves? I just don’t see how it’s benefiting anyone unless there is something they are trying to hide,” Lauto said.
Fitzsimmons also believes the policy is detrimental.
“I feel that if people are cut off from certain desirable interviews, then education is extremely hampered,” Fitzsimmons said. “Freedom of press doesn’t have boundaries, when all rules are followed. It is important to stay within them and if you do that, education within this type of major should be fruitful. But it is a shame if students are restrained at times.”
Elsa Chin, junior international studies major at The University of Hartford and editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Informer, also strongly disagrees with Quinnipiac’s interviewing policy,
“What’s the point of interviewing if you can’t go right to the source?” Chin said. “What is the administration afraid of?”
Chin also explained that she and her staff have regular direct contact with The University of Hartford’s administration. “I meet with our university president every two weeks for an hour to talk about everything going on around campus. Also our vice president of student affairs is in direct contact with my news editor, they meet every week. The safety of Hartford’s campus has been an issue this year, and the university has developed a strategic plan as result of that. The day that this plan was sent to the president, my news editor was also sent a copy,” Chin said.
At Wesleyan University, it is a tradition that the editor-in-chief of The Argus meet bi-weekly with the university president for a general interview.
Quinnipiac’s Web site policy also provoked a reaction from the editors. Lauto explained that students are supposed to get as much real-world experience as they can and newspaper Web sites are constantly updated as new stories are written.
Chin’s response was similar. “Journalism is all about multi-tasking with multi-media.”
When asked if The Argus and administration ever butt heads, Laffin-Rose responded that it happens frequently.
“If the administration ever thinks we paint them in a negative light, they will respond to us or in a campus wide e-mail addressing the issue. The heart of journalism is reporting the facts without bias, so whether or not a story paints the university negatively should not be a concern of the newspaper as long as it’s accurate,” Laffin-Rose said.
When The University of Hartford’s newspaper The Informer covered an armed robbery that occurred on campus and the administration was unhappy with the story, the president wrote a letter to the editor and it was published in the next issue.
“Quinnipiac seniors may be working on papers as soon as June 2008 and they need real experience,” Chin said.
Quinnipiac University, a private institution, has the power to implement policies such as the Web policy and the interviewing policy as stated on the Student Press Law Center’s Web site (www.splc.org). “While a school policy, state constitution or state law may offer some free expression protection, the First Amendment does not prohibit private schools from censoring or regulating the content of their student publications.”