Angela Mensing and the editors of the Inkwell seemed to know just what to do last year when the Student Government Association reduced the newspaper’s budget soon after SGA leaders had complained about the paper’s content.
Mensing and her group at Armstrong Atlantic State University called the cutback an act of censorship, and they fought back. They protested to the SGA. They went to the university administration. They called the local news media. They got the help of journalism groups such as SPJ. Eventually, they filed a lawsuit against the Georgia university.
In November 2007, about seven months after the budget cut, Mensing and her editors reached an out-of-court settlement with Armstrong Atlantic. The newspaper’s budget was restored, and the school paid the editors’ legal fees.
Would other students have taken similar action if they believed they were being censored? Here are some things student journalists should consider before deciding to take on the censors:
1. [b]Know what constitutes censorship
You can find help from many people: your adviser, a media law teacher on your campus or someone from a journalism organization.
2. [b]Don’t go public immediately
Sometimes, college administrators or student government leaders will back off censorship if you explain in a professional manner why their actions are improper.
3. [b]Keep records of everything
This includes letters, e-mails and any other correspondence from those who want to censor you.
4. [b]Keep open the lines of communication
You are likely to hurt your chances at resolving the issue if you refuse to communicate with the opposition.
5. [b]Contact almost everybody for help
That includes alumni, local media, other student newspapers and, most especially, organizations that have experience dealing with this sort of thing.
6. [b]Focus on remaining professional
Censorship battles can stir up a lot of anger and resentment, but you won’t be helping your cause by expressing those emotions publicly.
7. [b]Keep your campus up-to-date
Many journalists are not eager to report on themselves. But attempts at censoring the student media affects everyone on campus, so you have a responsibility to report on it.
8. [b]Don’t censor yourself
You shouldn’t shy away from reporting about controversial issues because you fear that you may further antagonize your would-be censor. If you do that, then the censor wins.
9. [b]Be prepared to be on the other side
Try to figure out what questions you’ll be asked, and talk to fellow journalists and your adviser to determine how you should answer them.
10. [b]Brace yourself for the long haul
Disputes over control of the student media can take weeks, months or years, and that means you need the patience.