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.
J-School Buzz's David Teeghman writes that the Missourian's policy is especially restrictive because it means "you can not contribute to other newsrooms in any capacity. A lot of content posted on this site has come from contributors who only published once or twice." A more reasonable policy would enable students to contribute to other outlets as long as they don't hold a leadership position, he writes.
But Tom Warhover, Missouri journalism professor and executive editor for innovations at the Missourian, told me that the newspaper already tries to accomodate students with a specific conflict. He said he may revise the policy to describe ways that the Missourian can do that -- perhaps by having a student work on a beat that doesn't pose a conflict.
As for the SPLC's First Amendment concerns, Warhover said he believes the Missourian is on firm legal ground because it restricts only particular activities that conflict with students' work for the paper. "Can I say that when I'm at a coffee shop and I hear somebody talking about something, that my loyalty lies with publication X versus publication Y?" he asked. "It just strikes me as putting that student in a very difficult position."