Stop the Presses

American journalism is under attack from all sides — not always
undeservedly. But one front that has some observers particularly
worried is a growing trend toward censorship of college media.

This year, an alternative campus newspaper in Eau Claire,
Wisconsin, lost funding after student leaders deemed it ‘too
political.’ And in 2002, Vanessa Curry, newspaper adviser at the
University of Texas in Tyler, was fired (and later reinstated)
after campus reporters too aggressively looked into open records at
the school, from administrators’ salaries to information about
ongoing investigations.

‘Universities are supposed to be about diversity of opinion and
knowledge,’ says James Highland, outgoing vice president of campus
chapter affairs for the Society of Professional Journalists. Thus,
Highland says, when university administrators are confronted, they
usually back off.

But could that change in the era of Hosty v. Carter? The June 20
appeals court ruling dumps onto college media the
protection-stripping precedents of 1988’s Hazelwood v.
decision, which states that educators ‘do not offend
the First Amendment’ by censoring high school newspapers. If it is
likewise widely accepted, Hosty could institutionalize campus
censorship nationwide.

Highland isn’t really worried, saying censorship issues cycle in
and out of history. Nonetheless, he admits that it is a growing
problem that SPJ will have to keep battling.

Mike Hiestand, legal consultant at the Student Press Law Center
in Arlington, Virginia, is less confident. By censoring school
newspapers, ‘we’re telling [young citizens] that the First
Amendment really isn’t that important,’ he says. In fact, that
notion has been gaining steam. A Knight Foundation survey of
100,000 American students conducted in 2004 found that more than 33
percent believe First Amendment protections go ‘too far,’ and half
think newspaper stories should be subjected to government

Outgoing SPJ president Irwin Gratz sides with the worriers. The
Hosty decision is ‘providing further fodder to the general
disrespect that has grown toward journalists,’ he says. ‘The public
will one day come to rue having treated us with so little respect
for our independence.’

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