Articles about "Student journalism"

Doug Williams

There’s more to story of Grambling student journalist fired for tweets about football team

The story of a student journalist getting fired for tweeting photos and statements from anonymous sources about conditions at Grambling State University in Louisiana has gotten national attention, but it’s wrong. At least in part.

David Lankster, former online news editor of The Gramblinite, said he was fired Friday for tweeting about the crumbling conditions facing Grambling State football players.

But the photos, at least, were tweeted on Saturday.

Lankster told talk show host Roland Martin that he was fired on Friday.

“So David, when did you get fired? What the hell?” Martin asked Lankster in a show that ran on Monday.

“I kind of got a notice about it, I want to say probably Friday,” Lankster said. Read more

University Of Alabama Sororities

How student reporters ended discrimination among University of Alabama sororities

In the weeks before school started, it was widely known on campus at the University of Alabama that a well-qualified black woman was pledging the white sororities. Her high-school resume was stellar, her family were alums and her grandfather was on the Board of Trustees.

The staff at the student newspaper, The Crimson White, was poised to document the seminal moment when she was accepted, which would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the university’s integration.

But the woman received no invitations to join any of the school’s 16 white sororities.

A couple days after the invitations were issued, Culture Editor Abbey Crain and Magazine Editor Matt Ford both stepped up at the Crimson White. Crain said in a phone interview for the Poynter Excellence Project that she assumed someone else was already working on the story and just wanted to help. Instead, she found herself as the lead reporter. Ford said he just wanted to tell a good story when he volunteered, and wasn’t even aware of the 50th anniversary.

Over the next three weeks, the two asked dozens of sorority members if they would describe the closed-door negotiations that led to invitations. Nearly all of the people approached said no.

“A lot of people were like, ‘Heck no, I am not talking about that. ” Crain said. “You know some of the sororities instruct their members to never ever talk to us about anything.”

Eventually, sources within four sororities agreed to tell their stories. One of the women even agreed to talk on the record.

On Sept. 11, The Crimson White published its investigative piece, “The Final Barrier: 50 Years Later Segregation Still Exists.” The story documented a rush process in which members at several sororities actively tried to pledge the student in question, only to be thwarted by their alumnae and advisers.

The story caught fire on social media. Jezebel linked to it the next day. Within a week, CNN, USA Today, The New York Times and The Guardian of London had published similar stories.

It’s a remarkable piece of journalism for three reasons.

  • The story itself is clear-eyed and insightful, taking readers into a secret rush process that’s rarely been documented.
  • The tone of the story was authoritative, yet lacked any hint of sensationalism. The writers were careful not to overreach in their conclusions, which made their assertions that much more powerful.
  • The impact was even more remarkable. Students and faculty protested. The college president, the governor and the U.S. Attorney General trained their sights on the rush process, and news media around the world took notice.

The outcome: Several sororities reopened the rush process and invited four African-American women and two other women of color into their ranks.

Alabama student Yardena Wolf, right, speaks at a campus protest. Khortlan Patterson is at left. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

This wasn’t the first time The Crimson White had criticized the sororities, Crain said — it was almost a rite of autumn. In Crain’s time as a student, the paper has published three columns or editorials calling the Greek system discriminatory. Each time, the Greeks responded that the paper was biased, online comments flew, and nothing changed, Crain said.

This year offered the prospect that things would be different: The weight of history was pressing down on the entire South, with commemorations of the integration of several universities and remembrances of the death of the four girls in the Birmingham bombing making headlines.

But the outcome was also different because the story was different.

On Sept. 18, about 400 students and faculty members protested on campus. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

One of Crain’s first moves was to track down Melanie Gotz, the only named source and the backbone of the story.

“I knew her from my freshman year. I thought she might be the kind of girl that would stick up for this stuff,” Crain said. Sure enough, Gotz had unsuccessfully spoken up during the rush meetings at her own sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, demanding to know what happened to the African-American pledge. When Crain called, Gotz was ready to talk. She described her sorority sisters standing with her to oppose their alumnae, only to be overruled.

“The entire house wanted this girl to be in Alpha Gam,” Gotz told The Crimson White. “We were just powerless over the alums.”

Anonymous sources at Delta Delta Delta, Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi described similar scenarios to Crain and Ford.

Crain was particularly worried about Gotz being the only named source. Throughout the reporting she kept Gotz informed of her progress, including the fact that no one else was going on the record. But Gotz insisted on keeping her name in the story.

“I didn’t want to throw her under the bus,” Crain said. “But she told me she would regret it if she didn’t put her name to it.”

Crain’s father, an Alabama alum, was back home in Huntsville and worried about his daughter.

“At first he was like, ‘Oh Abbey you are playing with fire. These are all well-off women. You are going to get yourself in trouble,’ ” she said. But as the reporting went along and she revealed what she was finding, her father changed his mind. “He was just like ‘Oh my gosh, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was like this.’ My parents are really proud.”

Mark Mayfield, the Crimson White’s adviser, said Crain, Ford and Editor-in-Chief Mazie Bryant approached him early with the story. They were particularly concerned because one of their anonymous sources had implicated an administration official who doubled as a sorority-house adviser as one of two people in the room when votes (which sources said were unanimously in favor of inviting the student) were counted and the pledge was removed from consideration.

Crain and Ford worked hard to get that woman’s response in the story, rather than settle for her initial “no comment.” The sorority adviser later responded that “Our recruitment processes and procedures were followed, and while I cannot take away the disappointment a potential new member or chapter member may feel, I can share that all women were treated fairly and consistently in our process.”

While that response doesn’t really explain how a pledge who had unanimous support from the members didn’t get an invitation, it at least allowed the adviser to respond to her critics. “It was the right thing to do,” Mayfield said. “Abbey was a bulldog about it.”

The morning the story was published, Ford said he went to bed at 3:30 a.m. When he awoke much later that day, his phone was overloaded with text messages. Jezebel had picked up the story, and people on Facebook and Twitter were talking about it.

National networks sent crews to campus, protests erupted, and after the bidding process was reopened, six women of color accepted invitations into sororities on campus. (Ford noted his disappointment that some of the national stories wrongly suggested the pledges had been blocked by current sorority members and not the alumnae.)

Ford and Crain are both on track to graduate next spring. Both admit they’re already behind in their classes, mostly because of their devotion to their journalism. After college, Ford hopes to move to New York to be a journalist — or maybe a screenwriter, or maybe an actor. Crain wants to be a fashion writer.

You should hire them before someone else does.

If you run into a work of journalism that deserves this kind of close inspection, please email us at If we use your suggestions, we’ll give you discounts on courses and Webinars at Poynter News University. Read more

Stack of newspapers

Boston University independent student paper apologizes after making light of rape

xoJane | The Daily Free Press | Boston Magazine

An anonymous Boston University student has written an xoJane piece accusing the university’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, of joking about rape.

The student says the Daily Free Press’ crime log regularly makes light of sexual harassment, rape and assault “by prefacing the paragraph-long descriptions of the incidents with jokey, pun-ridden titles.” She writes that she was sexually assaulted at Boston University her sophomore year and soon after “came across the horrifying, humiliating” way the paper depicted the incident in its crime log.

She provided some other examples, with commentary:

  • A man tried to break into a female BU student’s on-campus dorm via her balcony. The classy title of this traumatizing incident that could have ended in theft/rape/kidnapping/murder? “Where for art thou, creepy dude?”
  • A man was beaten to the ground and had his head stomped on until he was unconscious and bleeding. “Stomp the yard.” I am sure the victim and his family are touched by this sweet, concerned commentary on his life-threatening injuries in the form of a Ne-Yo movie.
  • A female BU student was pushed over on the street and held down to have her genitals photographed by a stranger. “Trashford.” You know, a fun, in-joke pun, because it happened on Ashford Street which is inhabited by many BU students and therefore said to be fratty/trashy?! So funny! Like, seriously, give this writer a promotion! The victim will totally forget her trauma and feelings of dehumanization to congratulate you on your funny thing!
  • A female BU student’s door to her dorm room was vandalized with racial slurs. “Haters gonna hate.” Yes, I do hate you, you ignorant, thoughtless person whom I refuse to call a “writer.”
  • A female BU student was domestically abused and choked by her boyfriend. “Choked up.”
Read more

Alabama student journalist quoted ‘nearly 30′ fabricated sources

The Crimson White |

Journalism freshman Madison Roberts “fabricated sources in several news stories dating back to Jan. 10 of this year” in University of Alabama student paper The Crimson White, the paper says. The reporter “quoted nearly 30 students, none of whom could be found in the UA student directory or on social media,” the paper’s report said.

“I was overwhelmed and succumbed to a lot of pressure I’d been under,” Roberts told the paper in an email. The paper’s copy editors discovered her fabrications while fact-checking names earlier this month; a subsequent review of Roberts’ work turned up more bogus sources. Roberts “has been removed from the paper’s staff,” the paper says. Read more


8 ways a landmark Supreme Court ruling has changed student journalism


According to Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte, the impact of the Hazelwood ruling on student journalism in this country has been nothing short of sheer devastation. In a recent column, University of Wisconsin-Madison student journalist Pam Selman similarly referred to Hazelwood as an “infectious disease … quietly spreading across the country, harming students at college campuses and high schools alike.” For his part, law professor Richard Peltz-Steele has described it as a long-term “censorship tsunami.”

The storm formed in the early 1980s, when the principal of East Hazelwood High School in St. Louis, Mo., objected to a pair of stories produced by journalism students for The Spectrum school newspaper. The principal deemed the stories — on teen pregnancy and a classmate coping with her parents’ divorce — editorially unsound and unfit for an adolescent audience. Prior to the paper’s publication, he pulled the pages containing the pieces. In response, the Spectrum’s student editor and two reporters sued.

Roughly five years later, the Supreme Court ruled in the school’s favor. The landmark January 1988 decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier was a giant step back for student press and speech rights. Unlike an earlier Supreme Court ruling that established the so-called Tinker Standard, the Hazelwood decision declared students do shed some of their Constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.

Currently, close to 30 years after the Spectrum first filed its controversial stories and 25 years after the Supreme Court ruled on the case, Hazelwood’s reach has expanded far beyond journalism, secondary schools, school-sponsored speech, and print publications.

In a recent interview timed to coincide with the milestone anniversaries, LoMonte provided eight basic truths about Hazelwood’s continued visible and invisible impact and how the ruling can be neutralized.

Truth #1: Hazelwood is a presence at the college level.

“When Hazelwood was first decided back in 1988 there was this long period where everybody in the legal and journalism community proceeded under the assumption that it was a case about children,” said LoMonte. “That was a safe assumption for a while, but it’s proving not to be any longer. The federal courts increasingly are looking to Hazelwood as providing the governing First Amendment legal standard for anyone at all who is a student, no matter how old, no matter how mature, no matter the level of education.”

For example, in 2011, a federal district court cited Hazelwood to support a decision by Auburn University at Montgomery to remove a 51-year-old graduate student from its nursing program. The student argued she had been unlawfully expelled for speaking out about perceived problems with the program’s disciplinary policies.

Truth #2: The Hazelwood ruling lays out a long, vague, subjective list of justifications for school censorship.

Administrators are increasingly empowered to ban or remove student press content they personally judge to be biased, poorly written, poorly researched or expressing an opinion on a hot-button issue.

The truthfulness or public service potential of a story are not mitigating factors. One example: a 2009 student newspaper report about drug use at Chicago’s Stevenson High School which featured an anonymous student discussing the ease of obtaining drugs on campus.

In response, LoMonte said, “The administration fabricated a fictitious ‘no anonymous sources’ rule to justify banning the story. Of course, high school newspapers not only routinely use anonymous sources, but routinely are ordered to do so by administrators under the rationale of protecting the reputations of vulnerable kids. But Stevenson was able to hide behind the fig leaf of ‘bad journalism’ to conceal what was transparently its true motivation: protecting the carefully crafted PR image of the school.”

Bottom-line, according to LoMonte, “If the administration can stop you from publishing because, in their subjective judgment, a piece is inadequately researched, biased or it takes a stand on a controversial political issue, then you’re talking about dumbing down journalism to Dick and Jane level. You’re talking about student journalism that’s going to have to meet Sesame Street standards.”

Truth #3: In a Hazelwood dispute, students or student media have an incredibly hard time claiming victory.

“If your speech is governed by the Hazelwood standard, then it is almost invariably true that in a dispute the school will win and you will lose,” said LoMonte. “Once a court decides that Hazelwood is the right legal standard, then a student is going to have to have an absolutely flawless case against a very foolish and stubborn school in order to prevail.”

This stubborn reality is producing the scariest outcome of all: a can’t-win mentality.

Truth #4: Many students no longer fight speech and press censorship.

LoMonte stated “there is no question” high school and college students — and their teachers, professors, and advisers — more actively combatted censorship prior to Hazelwood. He points to archived issues of the Student Press Law Center Report as one form of printed proof. Almost every pre-Hazelwood issue of the thrice-yearly magazine published in the 1970s and 1980s contains a summary of a legal battle against school censorship initiated by students.

“All of that changed after Hazelwood, and the spigot of litigation has almost entirely closed,” he said. According to LoMonte, it has been nearly five years since students in the U.S. filed a lawsuitagainst school censorship.

Frank LoMonte

“There’s a real sense — as I talk to students around the country — that they won’t even try to push boundaries anymore because they’re very busy,” he said. “They have two part-time jobs, six extracurricular activities, and three volunteer commitments. The last thing they need is to spend two weeks working on a story that never gets published.”

LoMonte described the mindset as akin to “You can’t fight City Hall.” As he explained, “There is a real sense that the balance of power has shifted so completely in favor of school administrators that a vindictive administrator can get away with anything — even ruining a teacher’s career or ruining a kid’s shot at college — and that the law will not step in and correct the wrong.”

Truth #5: Students are entering college timid and unaware of the power of journalism and free expression.

“What I’m hearing at the college level is that students are arriving in a damaged state,” LoMonte said. “They have been trained to believe that publishing material that upsets people is a bad thing. They have been trained if you ask too many tough and embarrassing questions of your institution that your story can be killed and you might personally be punished.”

During a symposium on Hazelwood’s legacy last fall, David Cuillier, director of the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona, said in the shadow of the ruling, “We are raising a generation of sheep.”

LoMonte agreed. “We’re fooling ourselves if we think the habits that are being taught in K through 12 are not going to carry over into college and into the profession,” he said.

Truth #6: The next avenue of expression with the potential to fall under Hazelwood’s scope is online.

“That’s our greatest fear,” LoMonte admitted. He cited the prominent 2012 case Tatro v. University of Minnesota, which involved a graduate student in UM’s mortuary science program punished by school officials after she published Facebook posts deemed threatening and inappropriate.

“We saw the University of Minnesota actually argue before the state Supreme Court that a college student’s speech on a Facebook page is entitled to only the Hazelwood level of protection if the speech somehow relates to school programs or if it is punished through academic channels,” he said.

“Although that was a pretty outlandish argument and the Court thankfully didn’t buy it, the fact that you have experienced college lawyers trying to stretch Hazelwood that far is indicative of the ambitions of at least some college administrators to completely control everything their students say about the school.”

Truth #7: Don’t expect the courts — Supreme or otherwise — to help mitigate or overturn Hazelwood.

“Honestly, I think what we’re seeing is the courts don’t want to get into the business of second-guessing schools and colleges because they think that refereeing these disputes is beneath them,” said LoMonte. “They think a dispute over flunking a class is too penny-ante for the federal courts to expend their time.”

From LoMonte’s perspective, this avoidance mentality comes at the victims’ expense. “It’s really misguided because the court is always supposed to be the place where an injured person who has nowhere else to turn can get relief,” he said. “If the courts are going to start telling students that their disputes are too insignificant for the judicial system then students are going to be left to the mercies of their schools.”

Truth #8: There are a few ways to fight back.

For inspiration, LoMonte points to school policies and state legislatures that have reversed Hazelwood or “guarantee students more than the Hazelwood minimum level of freedom.”

One example: the Illinois College Campus Press Act. The statute was cited successfully last year in a district court decision forcing Chicago State University to rehire a campus newspaper adviser who had been fired in clear retaliation for what students had published.

Ultimately, turning the Hazelwood tide requires much greater public awareness.

“That means anyone who feels that they’ve been censored needs to put it on the record,” said LoMonte.

“It’s disheartening to see anyone censored, but it’s doubly disheartening when people are so frightened and intimidated that they won’t even speak up about it. You’re never going to change public policy until the decision-makers perceive there is a widespread problem.” Read more


University sanctions journalism student for ‘disruptive’ interview request

Alex Myers, an undergraduate journalism student at the State University of New York at Oswego, isn’t so sure he wants to be a reporter when he graduates.

The Australian exchange student experienced the potential chilling effect of a university administration on young journalists last month after he erred in the course of reporting a profile for class.

Myers, who until recently interned at Oswego’s Office of Public Affairs, wrote interview questions to sources for a class assignment, a profile about hockey coach Ed Gosek. In the e-mail, released with several other documents by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Myers identified himself this way: “My name is Alex Myers, I work for the Office of Public Affairs at SUNY Oswego.”

Myers didn’t refer to himself as a student, nor did he clarify that the profile was for a class assignment. “Be as forthcoming as you like,” he concluded. “What you say about Mr. Gosek does not have to be positive.”

The next day, according to FIRE, “Myers received a hand-delivered letter from SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley, informing him that he was being placed on interim suspension, effective at 6:00 p.m. October 19, and that he would have to vacate his dorm room by that time. The letter also banned him from all campus facilities and informed him that he may be subject to arrest if he came on campus.”

The University charged Myers with “dishonesty” for failing to properly identify himself. But more distressing to journalists is that Oswego administrators deemed Myers’ qualifier about “positive” remarks to be tantamount to “disruptive behavior,” citing a section of the code of conduct that states “campus network resources may not be used to defame, harass, intimidate, or threaten another individual or group.”

Myers sought help from FIRE, and an associate director from the organization sent a letter to Oswego administrators seeking to drop the “disruptive behavior” charge. “Categorizing Myers’ emails as possible defamation, harassment, intimidation, or threats is indefensible,” wrote Peter Bonilla. “By punishing Myers for protected speech, SUNY Oswego has violated the First Amendment.”

While SUNY-Oswego dropped the suspension and the “disruptive behavior” charge, Myers must write a letter of apology to Coach Gosek and “write a piece for the Oswegonian and/or for your professor to share with other students in journalism classes that will share what you have learned from this experience.”

Myers, whose phone ran out of minutes shortly after our interview began, admitted that misidentifying himself was a significant error. “It was completely unintentional,” he explained via e-mail. “I had been working on a story for the [Office of Public Affairs] in the days prior to emailing the coaches. During correspondence for this story, I was identifying myself as a member of the OPA and by habit included it in the emails in question.”

And it is this error, not the bit about “positive remarks,” that Myers thinks angered the administration. “Had I properly identified myself, this probably would not be as big of an issue as it has turned out to be,” he wrote.

The bulk of the apology will be about the misrepresentation, Myers said. He plans to fulfill his obligation by writing a paper for class, and not for publication in the Oswegonian. Myers will discuss with his classmates the limits of technology in reporting. “E-mail interviews do not give you any leeway when conducting an interview, you have no chance to clarify,” he wrote. “So in this instance a phone or face-to-face interview would have allowed me to clear up any issues and this problem would not have arisen.”

Citing student privacy rules, no journalism professor at Oswego would even admit to teaching Myers. Prof. Arvind Diddi, who coordinates the journalism program, did not respond to requests for comment via phone or e-mail.

But communications professor Dr. John Kares Smith told The Oswegonian that he sent Stanley an email voicing his concerns:

As a Judicial Affairs Advisor for many years, I have served as an Advisor to students successfully accused of hate crimes, sexual assaults, cheating of various kinds, etc., and none of them were immediately suspended. Most left for a semester, perhaps two, and then returned to finish their educations. This kind of suspension is usually reserved for very dangerous students…often armed with guns, knives, etc., and a danger to the society and themselves. Mr. Myers is none of those things, is he? And, frankly, since your suspension was immediately withdrawn I suspect that you may have had second thoughts about it.

Students at Oswego have been outspoken in their support. After a story about the incident ran on Gawker on November 10, Ryan Deffenbaugh, a junior, tweeted: “I came to Oswego because it appeared to take journalism and its ethics seriously. What happened to Alex Myers is truly embarrassing.”

That tweet captures the sentiments of other students, including Myers. “I’ve had support from my fellow students,” he said. “They understand I made an error, but feel the school went overboard with my punishment.”

At any journalism school, students will err. That’s why they’re in school. But there are a range of journalistic sins, and this one seems minor compared to others Nick Graziano’s witnessed.

Graziano, a senior and managing editor of the weekly Oswegonian, was surprised by the administration’s stance.

“A lot of people, especially myself, think it was an overreaction by the school. He made a mistake by saying he was with the Office of Public Affairs. I feel like I’ve seen worse cases than that,” Graziano explained in a phone interview. “I’ve seen people make up quotes before, and all they had to do was write an apology letter.”

The episode made Myers feel uneasy about journalism, Graziano added. “He’s on the fence about being a journalist now. He’s got a bad taste in his mouth.”

Myers said only: “I am not completely sure of the career path I will take.”

Aileen Gallagher is an assistant professor in the magazine department at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. She was previously a senior editor at, New York magazine’s website. Read more


‘Men of Journalism’ calendar a bold fundraising venture

Downtown Devil | Kickstarter
Students of the SPJ chapter at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School are raising money via a bold, perhaps somewhat optimistic project: a “Men of Journalism” calendar.

“Most of the Cronkite School and the Downtown campus are female, so we wanted to capitalize on that market and create a calendar of men that hopefully the ladies of the Downtown campus will buy,” SPJ chapter president Anne Stegen told Alexis Macklin.

“I found out I was one of two freshman in the calendar, so that made me feel awesome,” Nick Wicksman told Macklin. He’s one of two calendar models whose identities SPJ has confirmed so far, and he’s the fellow featured in this video: Read more


Penn State student journalist suspended for fabrication, plagiarism

The Daily Collegian
Penn State’s student newspaper has suspended a writer who fabricated and plagiarized quotes by Sue Paterno in a story about the opening of a center on campus named for her. Paterno is the widow of former coach Joe Paterno, who died just months after being fired from the university for his role in Jerry Sandusky’s ongoing sexual abuse of young men.

Daily Collegian editor-in-chief Casey McDermott did not name the student in her note today, but the story she cites carries the byline of Nick Vassilakos. Poynter chose to include his name here to make it easier for others to review his work and to avoid implicating other Daily Collegian writers.

McDermott said that this was not the student’s first offense: Read more


College adviser wins job back, but there’s no newspaper to advise

First Amendment Center | Student Press Law Center
Gerian Steven Moore has won his job back at Chicago State University after a judge ruled that he had been fired because Tempo, the student newspaper that he advised, had published stories critical of the university. Trouble is, Tempo stopped publishing in April 2009, and the judge decided not to force the school to reinstate it. The judge ruled that student interest in the paper probably waned after it ceased publication and  editor George Providence II left the school, following multiple clashes with the administration over press freedom. “A win for the university’s students … would include a free and independent campus newspaper,” writes the First Amendment Center’s Douglas E. Lee. The school has to bring Moore back as executive director for communications or offer him a similar job, according to the Student Press Law Center. || Related: Student adviser fired from ECU appeals termination on First Amendment grounds (Poynter) Read more


SPLC says Missourian’s noncompete policy violates First Amendment

J-School Buzz | Student Press Law Center
J-School Buzz, an independent blog covering the Missouri School of Journalism, has found an ally in its complaints about the Columbia Missourian’s policy forbidding its student reporters to work for other media. Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center believes the Missourian’s policy violates the First Amendment, in part because the Missourian isn’t a typical student-run newspaper. It’s overseen by faculty members, who are state employees. He says the Missourian’s conflict of interest policy boils down to this: “a public university imposing limitations on free speech.” And he finds the policy ironic considering the more obvious conflicts present at Missourian:

It’s hard to see how an organization edited by people who are full-time paid agents of the entity it most frequently covers, who also happens to be the biggest employer in town, could ever have a conflicts policy that isn’t a joke.

Read more