Students must fight for free speech

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of the press.

In college campuses around the country, student newspapers and magazines operate under the idea that all press is free, including their own work. Recent events at the University of Georgia, however, highlight how press freedom is hardly safe from attack.

Earlier this month, Polina Marinova, editor in chief of the university’s student-run paper The Red & Black, resigned and walked out of the office in protest after the university tried to gain editorial control over the publication. The paper’s editorial board joined her and launched a blog called Red and Dead to demand a reversal of the university’s policies and publish their own articles outside of The Red & Black.

Among the encroachments on the paper’s independence, Marinova noted that someone on the Board of Directors called for The Red & Black to have a change in the amount of “good and bad” content. What exactly was bad content?

The board member described it as “[c]ontent that catches people or organizations doing bad things. I guess this is ‘journalism.’ If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.”

The board also pushed to have a professional adviser become the editorial director, which would give individual prior review on what the paper published. That means that a hired, paid member of the university would be able to tell the student staff what could and could not run inside the paper, giving the university veto power over what students worked on. And the university did this without any input from the students who staff the paper.

The Red & Black’s walkout was the right thing to do.

Journalism isn’t public relations. Journalists are not there to serve as propaganda machines and to simply regurgitate positive news about institutions.

What the University of Georgia tried to do is an affront to student journalism. The Red & Black, like many other college newspapers, is explicitly student-run. It’s an independent and legitimate news publication.

There might be some idea that because its journalists are students they don’t have the same rights or authority on matters as journalists who work on a full-time basis. But students work hard, turn out stories and see them published. They strive to seek truth and report it, as the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics dictates.

Student journalists are legitimate journalists, and to have prior review and other forms of censorship forced onto them is an affront to their freedom as press.

And as for the board member putting quotation marks around journalism to describe a body that exposes misconduct or corruption, that doesn’t deserve quotations as if it’s some dismissible idea. That’s what journalism is.

George Orwell once said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

Downplaying that kind of reporting does more harm than good in the long run, as many cases of misconduct could go unchecked.

This kind of censorship shouldn’t happen, but it does, so at the very least it’s good that student journalists fight back and take action to protect their independence.

And if anything, this incident shows that the institutions that try to rein in student press can’t keep up with the students. Marinova and the other editors organized quickly, built a strong online presence and reached out to other publications and journalism groups to share their story. The university was on the defensive and could not keep up.

There is a happy ending here: the staff of The Red & Black managed to reach an agreement with the University of Georgia to stop the changes, and Marinova and other editors are back in their old positions. The former Red and Dead staff are continuing to push for a lack of censorship, and they did show the university that they won’t simply stand back and lose control of their paper.

What the editorial board of The Red & Black, and all of the other staff members who joined them, did is inspiring.

Journalists, whether they’re students or otherwise, should never have to fight for freedom of the press. But since they do, it is good to know that they don’t stand back and let others trample over them.


Nicholas Slayton is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism.

6 replies
  1. Bradley Smith
    Bradley Smith says:

    We submitted a text link to be run in the Daily Trojan that reads: HOLOCAUST HISTORY; The kIssue of Academic Conformaty. The link leads to the text of a talk I gave at the Teheran Holocaust Conference in December 2006. The title of the talk is The Irrational Vocabulary of the American Professorial Class with Regard to the Holocaust Question.
    The ad was rejected by The Trojan. No specific reason. It would appear that the issue of Academic Conformaty has been successful with the editgorial staff of The Trojan. It is not a matter to leave to the advertising department. If any Trojan readers have any sound reasons, based on the text of the talk itself, for not wanting it to be seen by USC students, I would like to know what they are.

  2. Jett Rucker
    Jett Rucker says:

    The Trojan rejects (all) advertisements from the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust because of pressure from the Anti-Defamation League/Hillel and its captive USC administration.

    These are PAID ADS, not editorial content, and yes, it is entirely within The Trojan’s rights to pick and choose whom they will accept money from for what ads. Freedom of speech, after all does NOT extend to advertisers, at least not in The Trojan. The Trojan (or its handlers) does NOT want open debate on THAT subject.

    And what others? No way to tell, is there?

  3. Santo Raphael
    Santo Raphael says:

    Buffitt’s idea has merit! Getting a fractured American public to agree to make such demands on Congress is questionable. Getting Congress to take action, even as a beginning, is more questionable. We’ll never know until this gets support from the American public, so pass it on with good wishes.

    Warren Buffett, in a recent interview with CNBC, offers one
    of the best quotes about the debt ceiling:

    “I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just
    pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more
    than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible
    for re-election.

    The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds)
    took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple!
    The people demanded it. That was in 1971 – before computers,

    e-mail, cell phones, etc.

    Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took one (1) year
    or less to become the law of the land – all because of public pressure.

    Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to
    a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask
    each of those to do likewise.

    In three days, most people
    in The United States of America will
    have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed

    Congressional Reform Act of 2012

    1. No Tenure / No Pension.

    A Congressman/woman collects a salary
    while in office and receives no
    pay when they’re out of office.

    2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social

    All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the
    Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into
    the Social Security system, and Congress participates with
    the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

    3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all
    Americans do.

    4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.
    Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

    5. Congress loses their current health care system and
    participates in the same health care system as the American people.

    6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the
    American people.

    7. All contracts with past and
    present Congressmen/women are void
    effective 12/1/12. The American people did not make this
    contract with Congressmen/women.

    Congress made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in
    Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers
    envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their
    term(s), then go home and back to work.

    If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will
    only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive
    the message. Don’t you think it’s time?


  4. Bob Taylor
    Bob Taylor says:

    I think it’s important to note that the The Red & Black is run by an independent 501(c)(3)
    corporation with its own self-perpetuating board of directors, not appointed
    by or controlled by the University of Georgia. So your assertion in the ninth paragraph, “What the University of Georgia tried to do is an affront to student journalism,” is wrong. The members of that board
    are Georgia publishers, editors and other businesspeople, many of them UGA
    alumni and former Red & Black staffers. It is that board of directors that
    has been in dispute with the student staff, not the university. The Red &
    Black has been entirely independent of the University of Georgia since 1980. I just wanted to set the record straight.
    Thank you,
    Bob Taylor
    Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs
    University of Georgia

    • Jett Rucker
      Jett Rucker says:

      Yes, and the Federal Reserve is NOT part of the US government.

      It isn’t – you can look it up. The Fed is owned and operated by its member banks.

      The record is straight.

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