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Courier instates new prior review policy

April 20, 2012

In a recent court battle, Moore v. Watson, a former faculty member and adviser brought Chicago State University to court after he was fired following the publication of several truthful-but-embarrassing stories in the student publication Tempo. The termination came after the public relations director of CSU tried to implement mandatory prior review of the publication, but was denied by the editor-in-chief.

The judge hearing the case ruled that the college had attempted to infringe on both the faculty adviser and student editor’s First Amendment right, and that the firing of the adviser was “suspect.”

The situation at CSU isn’t unique. Student publications around the country, including fellow small liberal arts college Elmhurst College, have faced issues of censorship, faculty control and prior review.

In light of this, the Illinois College Press Association (ICPA) urged its members to follow more closely its key policy that prohibits faculty from reviewing the content of student newspapers in advance. This ICPA policy makes it clear that faculty advisers and administrators cannot: (1) Edit copy written by students prior to publication unless specifically requested to do so by a student (2) Rearrange the placement of stories in the paper (3) Remove or “kill” a story or (4) Demand that a certain story must be covered.

These policies are not unique, new or unprotected for college publications. They have endured and been upheld in court cases for the past century and, judging by the Moore v. Watson case, will continue to be upheld both in state and federal court.

The reasons for this are hopefully obvious to the academic community. Student newspapers are not created to be used as a propaganda machine or as an instrument of the school.  They have the responsibility to report the facts, even when those facts may reflect negatively on the school or its faculty.  The guidelines are meant to protect a student’s right to print stories dealing with campus problems from those that hold the most influence over them (i.e. administrators, financial aid advisers, faculty, etc.). Under ICPA policy, stories can be suggested, and print stories can be critiqued after they are published.

Similarly, sources must be prohibited from pre-publication review of interviews. While covering several recent controversies at Monmouth College, faculty and administrators have insisted on the right to review and approve the content of their interviews before publication. Once again, the problem with this lies in the power these faculty members and administrators hold over the students, and the problem should be obvious. Student reporters have a genuine fear that sources could adjust grades, deny awards, or alter recommendations if the source does not like what is written and demands for change are not met. The goal of this policy is not to promote inaccuracy, but rather to safeguard the rights of student reporters.

In an attempt to clarify this problem, The Courier staff has adapted a policy regarding prepublication review of stories by sources quoted in the story. The Courier policy is identical or very similar to policies at most major newspapers in the country.


Monmouth College Courier prior review policy

Reporters should not permit a source to see a story before publication. However, since accuracy is our overriding goal, reading parts of a story to a source by someone other than the reporter can sometimes prevent inaccuracy. If a source asks to see a story before publication, the reporter should check with his or her immediate supervising editor. If the editor agrees, the source will be permitted to speak with the editor to check facts and quotes.  No nitpicking or arbitrary editing or rewriting will be permitted unless warranted by flagrant inaccuracies.


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