Don’t stop the presses: in defense of college newspapers

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Anna Oates/Guilfordian

What would happen if a government official ordered The Guilfordian to move its papers from Founders Hall?

That is exactly what happened to the Rocky Mountain Collegian, a newspaper run by students at Colorado State University.

“I got a text, during one of my classes, from our newsroom adviser who said there was a problem and to call him when I could,” said Kate Winkle, editor-in-chief of the Collegian in an email interview. “I never would have expected it to be about our papers being pulled from the racks.”

Earlier that day, Larimer County clerk Angela Myers ordered the Collegian to remove issues of its paper from racks near a ballot drop-off area on CSU’s campus. Myers, a Republican elected official, said in her order that the front-page photo of a Democratic Senate candidate amounted to electioneering.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, and that guarantee applies to all publications. Myers blatantly disregarded this right in this latest affront to student publications such as the Collegian.

Thankfully, the Collegian hit back hard. Steve Zansberg, counsel for the company that owns the paper, the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, fired back with a strongly worded cease-and-desist letter.

“We respectfully ask that you refrain from applying a blatantly unconstitutional interpretation of (the statute) by restricting the display of the Collegian (unless) and until the Collegian carries a front-page headline that would arguably constitute campaigning for or against any candidate, e.g. ‘Cast your vote today for Cory Gardner,’” wrote Zansberg in the letter.

Myers then reversed her order and allowed papers back on the racks. However, she maintained in an interview with the Collegian that the statute was not clear on the issue.

And, she is absolutely right. But, it should not have to be.

In addition to the First Amendment, both Article II, Section 10 of the Colorado State Constitution and the Federal Tenth Circuit Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. Gessler support Zansberg’s claim.

Myers’ order was just another attack on student-run publications that too many people see as something less than the real deal.

“People think they can stomp over students because they’re young and naïve, but that’s not so,” said Early College senior Valeria Sosa, News editor for The Guilfordian.

The threat of censorship haunts many student publications, even occasionally The Guilfordian.

This is particularly worrisome because student publications need First Amendment protections. In many cases, student newspapers are uniquely positioned to break stories relevant to schools. Additionally, they act as a watchdog on campus, keeping school officials in line.

“Colleges and universities tell one story,” said Sosa. “They want people to come to their schools. They want to make tons of money. They’re not going to (do that) if a school newspaper is rattling off all of the horrible aspects of that college.”

Can you imagine what would happen if administrators could censor The Guilfordian on a whim? What kinds of articles would you find here in the Opinion section? What if administrators eliminated The Guilfordian entirely?

This hypothetical situation has become reality at High Point University. The Campus Chronicle, the award-winning student newspaper there, quietly stopped publishing at the beginning of this school year. Now all news regarding the school comes from the press office run by the administration.

Student newspapers are the voice of a school, and that voice must be preserved. We should all support student journalists in their endeavors to uncover the truth and fight against those who would silence them.

“Just because we’re students doesn’t mean we aren’t journalists,” said Winkle. “The First Amendment doesn’t apply to a person once they graduate and enter the ‘real world.’ It applies to everyone equally, no matter the age or experience.”