Another group of student journalists is planning an independent publication

January 5, 2016

A small group of student journalists at West Virginia’s Fairmont State University are planning their own publication after multiple run-ins with the school administration. Trisha LeBoeuf wrote for Student Press Law Center about intimidation, requests for prior review and the dismissal of several newspaper advisors at The Columns, the school’s newspaper.

The latest controversy, which is still ongoing, began this past spring, when Jacob Buckland, Tyler Wilson, and Brad Riffee, editors of The Columns, investigated allegations of black mold on campus.

Buckland and Wilson’s swabs in “places that looked disgusting” revealed the presence of a potentially toxic form of black mold in campus housing — stachybotrys chartarum.

The paper’s investigative coverage reportedly soon led to administrative intimidation and bullying, which the student editors said came primarily from the head of the department of language and literature, J. Robert Baker. Baker was the administrator who oversaw the student publications.

LeBoeuf reports that Buckland, Wilson and former copy editor Britany Mullins plan to start their own publication with “an independent watchdog news site called The Broken Column. They want to continue to investigate the campus.” The Broken Column already has a Facebook page.

In July, LeBoeuf wrote about another group of student journalists who set out on their own to keep covering their campus. Journalists from Muscatine Community College’s Calumet raised money and launched one issue of The Spotlight. The former editor and advisor won the Stephen Berry Free Press Champion award from IowaWatch.

Spotlight has changed since it began, Mary Mason told Poynter in an email. The former editor-in-chief is now the news director of a local radio station. Two faculty members have started a First Amendment Club, she said, and Spotlight is now its official publication.

In November, SPLC reported that the staff of The Columns won the 2015 College Press Freedom Award.