Over the past few months, college and university administrators on our very own campus seem to have forgotten that freedom is a right, not a privilege, according to the United States Constitution. Freedom is not a gift or something disclosed occasionally. But, unfortunately, our right to free speech and freedom of the press, as college journalists, seem to be slowly depleting.
Here, at the Pioneer, we have experienced this first-hand. Since the beginning of the semester, the reconstruction of our student-run newspaper has been priority. Our staff agreed initially to be dedicated to providing accurate news coverage, interesting feature and opinion stories that connects to the entire student body. In September we were enthusiastic, and ready to produce what we believed the Pioneer lacked before. Little did we know that it was not our predecessors, it was not lack of effort, or an incompetent staff that would be our number one obstacle. It’s simply a lack of access to information on campus.
“By committing to the Pioneer I was extremely excited to revamp the publication,” said Kayla Krause, Editor in Chief of the Pioneer. “Both editors saw it as an opportunity to bring new things to the newspaper. For all of the articles, we just wanted to get information from the most direct source, yet it was disheartening when we couldn’t even get the chance to ask the questions when we were repeatedly redirected to the Office of Public Relations.”
Staff writer Olivia Wicik, has experienced this from the very beginning. “This happened to me a bunch of times,” she said. “I had an appointment with a student advisor for an article I was writing on school newspapers online vs. a paper edition. When I asked for a quote on this matter, the advisor got really uncomfortable and said her administrator doesn’t like them speaking to students about advising issues.”
Both issues have nothing to do with the other. There is an underlying fear among the staff on campus that has affected the way we can report the news. “It’s sad and maddening all at the same time,” Krause said.
Max Caster, staff writer for the Pioneer, has seen the brunt of it as well. After attempting to write what was assigned as a positive article on crime statistics at Post, Caster was discouraged when quickly dismissed by Public Safety. “I asked an officer. He directed me to a supervisor and she directed me to the school’s Office of Public Relations,” Caster said.
Caster never received the information that was needed to write the article. He was told to refer to the Clery Act, which was Public Safety’s excuse for not releasing any information. However, the purpose of the Clery Act was designed for the exact opposite.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses, according to HYPERLINK “http://www.securityoncampus.org“www.securityoncampus.org. Named after Jeanne Ann Clery, who was raped and murdered while asleep in her residence hall room, April 5, 1986, this federal law is heavily enforced and applies to most institutions of higher education both public and private. For Public Safety to use this as a defense to not disclose information to a student reporter is not only against the spirit of the federal law but extremely contradictory and disingenuous.
As disgraceful as this is, it is even worse that our reporter’s are forced to accept this information from their peers as accurate. “I can see why campus officials would not want to comment directly about certain things. They were hired to represent the school and don’t want to give a poor representation of C.W. Post by giving the wrong answers,” Caster said. As much as this may be “understandable,” it still does not make it right.
“As news editor, most of the stories I would assign required my reporters to speak to the professional staff on campus,” Beth Fitzgerald said. “A lot of times they would come back and tell me no one would speak with them because they weren’t allowed or they just blatantly didn’t want to cooperate.” Fitzgerald’s position at the Pioneer is critical – for there is no point in having a university newspaper without the accessibility to the “news.” “This is why we’ve had somewhat ‘fluff’ stories this semester. There has hardly been enough investigative news pieces because we cannot get information other than about how ‘great’ the school is,” Fitzgerald said.
According to Rita Langdon, the C.W. Post Office of Public Relations serves as only a liaison for reporters who wish to speak with members of the campus community. Once a reporter makes an inquiry about a specific program or matter, the Office of Public Relations will put the reporter in touch with a university official, faculty member, dean, director or authority who can best provide accurate, quality and timely information.
“If a staff or faculty member refers a Pioneer reporter to the Office of Public Relations, the reporter should contact the Public Relations Office. We can then ensure the reporter is put in touch with the proper authority who can provide the right data and information,” Langdon said. “It is important to note that not all employees of Long Island University are individually empowered to speak on behalf of the university.”
But who are the proper authority we will be directed to and how can we even trust they are giving accurate information? Are the individuals who are not “empowered to speak on behalf of the university” allowed to give their personal opinions – to speak at all to student journalists? As journalists we are trained to get the facts, and to report objectively. By an administrator, such as Langdon and her public relations team, guiding reporters in the direction she wants us to go, we are not only being subjective but becoming part of a voice that is not our own.
Chair of the Media Arts Department, Dr. Barbara Fowles, believes the campus administration has become more controlling of the content of both the Pioneer and PTV in recent years. “I see this as great concern for Post’s image, and a lack of trust in the reporters to get things ‘right,’ Fowles said. As we must remember, that the term ‘right’ should stay within the eye of the beholder, Fowles agrees that this behavior can hinder a student journalist’s work. “It shows some misunderstanding of how the press should work,” she said.
This matter isn’t only the concern of student journalists on campus but it also affects the entire student body, whether they realize it or not.
Think about how you get your information; what you watch on PTV; what your administrators and professors tell you. It’s not a conspiracy theory but it’s something to take note of. What you absorb is equivalent to how you absorb it. Both go hand-in-hand because sometimes it’s natural for us to believe the first thing we see or hear.
“I think it is very important for the Pioneer staff to forge ahead,” Fowles said. “Do the best job they can, show the administration that stories are accurate and responsibly done, and hope that the administration will come around to seeing that reporters should- and must- be trusted to tell their stories.”
I thoroughly believe in what I was taught here at C.W. Post. I wouldn’t be striving to be in this profession if I didn’t. I wouldn’t have taken this job as Editor in Chief if I didn’t believe in the power of student speech. What the administration has to understand is that we are merely here to do our job, as you wake up every morning to do yours.