Name: Cassidy Grom
College newspaper: The Echo (Upland, Indiana)
Where I am now: Director of the Student Press Coalition
While I learned so much from working on Taylor University’s student newspaper, The Echo, I had some frustrating experiences with censorship. Those experiences led me to form the Student Press Coalition and promote the free student press at private, Christian universities like mine (check out the SPC website in a few days; it launches May 1).
During my time on The Echo, some articles were censored in accordance with the student newspaper online policy, which states:
“The University can not afford for questionable or negative Echo reporting to reach a worldwide audience. Consequently, the Echo online would be viewed differently from the print publication. Whereas the print publication is designed to be a journalistic effort, the online Echo would display the more positive and constructive campus stories.”
The policy continued, saying stories that could “taint the public image of the university” would be barred from publishing online.
It outlined the process for avoiding bad university press: “after the printed Echo is complete and before the online version of the Echo goes live, all proposed content would be reviewed prior to publication by a marketing or admissions personnel member.”
Every night when we went to press, an Echo student staff member emailed the full text of the newspaper to a marketing personnel. The next morning, we would get an email back telling us what we could and could not post online. Over the course of one year as news editor and a second as co-editor-in-chief (I’m not employed there this year), a handful of stories were censored from the web.
Here are a few examples:
1. The post-election article
In the days following the 2016 national election, one reporter reported on the impact of President Trump’s win. One situation involved an international student who received a Snapchat video from another student. In the video, the student yelled Trump’s name “along with a series of expletives and slurs, advising viewers to give up and side with the President-elect,” according to the reporter’s article. This article also reported that during a faculty meeting, faculty were informed that “some students ran down the hallways of residence halls waving Confederate flags.”
We accidentally published the article online without permission from the director of media relations. When he directed us to take it down, we did. However, a community member had already posted the article on his Facebook page, and the broken link confused interested readers. The university allowed us to put the article back up, but only after topping off the article with a lengthy disclaimer that stated the university had not yet verified the incidences reported in The Echo.
2. Students disqualified from student body presidential race
Right before we went to print for the February 16, 2016, edition, one of our reporters learned that a pair of candidates were disqualified from the student body president and vice president race because they had incomplete paperwork. We published that the unsigned document, which should have been signed by a teaching faculty and a residence hall director, listed qualifications for the role. Those qualifications including “(a clear) probation status, demonstrating an active faith, maturity and good standing in the classroom and residence hall.”
We scrambled to reorganize our front page layout to squeeze in a brief article, and our reporter provided more in-depth coverage on the web version. Soon after the print publication was distributed across campus, we were called into a meeting with the ex-candidates and then-current student body president and vice president (both university employees) to discuss our coverage. The ex-candidates were upset that we mentioned the qualifications that were listed on the unsigned form, claiming it implied they had bad character. They convinced us to omit those details about the form on the online version, arguing it could make them look bad for future job prospects.
While these cases may feel minor, the censorship policies and practices of my university made me feel hesitant to pursue any stories that might make the university look bad. I’m thankful for my later internships in newsrooms which taught me to seek the truth courageously.