Our view: FAMU student newspaper deserves First Amendment rights - ocolly.com : Editorials

Our view: FAMU student newspaper deserves First Amendment rights

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 7:59 pm

Student journalists have the power to spark discussion and create change. They have First Amendment rights that should not be stifled.

The FAMUan, Florida A&M University’s student newspaper, will not publish its first issue until Jan. 30, FAMU School of Journalism and Graphic Communication Dean Ann Kimbrough said. She said the student staff will undergo intensive training before they reapply for their editorial board positions.

Kimbrough suspended publication of the paper in response to a libel suit filed by drum major Keon Hollis. The suit asks for damages sustained when the paper incorrectly stated Hollis was suspended in connection with the November 2011 hazing death of a fellow band member. The FAMUan posted an online correction soon after.

Despite the error, Kimbrough’s decision to regulate the publication of the newspaper is not teaching the right lesson. Instead of getting real-world experience about how to respond to such a situation, the staff will start its semester in constant fear of retribution by FAMU’s journalism school administrators. Moreover, most of the paper’s staff likely had no hand in Hollis’ misidentification, so it is simply unfair for them to be sanctioned for something they did not do. 

The issues in Tallahassee illustrate why student media are vitally important to universities. Student newspapers serve to inform the campus community of news and events--good and bad. Student newspapers are not the public relations outlets of universities, and they should not be prevented from choosing their own content. Restricting a paper’s First Amendment rights as a result of legal action is the exact opposite of how the journalism industry operates. News at FAMU does not stop because someone got sued; rather, it continues every day and needs to be reported by those who know the community best--its students.

The FAMUan and other student newspapers are the prime source of campus news for their communities, and they should be allowed to remain so without unnecessary regulation from administrators who seek to save their reputations at the expense of others.

To see The FAMUan’s online content, visit inkandfangs.com.