INDIANAPOLIS The Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter last week to Gary Shapiro, provost at Central Michigan University, regarding the director of student media position at the university.
Sonny Albarado, SPJ president, highlighted the potential conflict of interest for one of the candidates, Jim Knight, who is married to the associate vice president of communications, Sherry Knight.
If Mr. Knight is selected as student media director, his connection to the university's chief spokesperson would create an environment intentional or not in which student journalists would tend to self-censor and hold back on information that might be damaging to the administration, Albarado wrote.
The full letter from Albarado to Shapiro follows this release.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.
April 25, 2013
E. Gary Shapiro, Provost Central Michigan University Warriner 112 1200 S. Franklin St. Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859
Dear Mr. Shapiro,
I am writing on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nations oldest and largest journalism advocacy organization, to express our deep concern about a situation that jeopardizes the independence of student media at Central Michigan University.
As I understand it, one of three finalists being considered for the position of director of student media and publications is veteran journalist Jim Knight.
Neither I nor the Society of Professional Journalists question Mr. Knight's qualifications or integrity. What we do question is whether the university has fully considered the obvious conflict of interest that exists because of the position his wife, Sherry Knight, holds at CMU associate vice president of communications.
Ordinarily, SPJ does not involve itself in personnel matters at either the collegiate or professional level. But in this case, we believe the potential chilling effect on student journalists requires comment.
If Mr. Knight is selected as student media director, his connection to the university's chief spokesperson would create an environment intentional or not in which student journalists would tend to self-censor and hold back on information that might be damaging to the administration.
I commend Mr. Knight for tackling this issue in his public interview (cm-life.com, April 23) and for contacting journalism ethicist Bob Steele for his assessment of the potential for conflict.
But we believe the situation poses a clear conflict of interest, no matter Mr. Knight's intentions.
We urge you to remember that an adviser to student media at public universities is neither an editor nor a publisher but rather an arm of the government in this case, the university administration. If that government agent influences student content decisions in any way, the result is censorship.
We encourage you to recognize student media as designated public forums, free from censorship and advance approval of content.
We trust that you will take our concerns, and those expressed by faculty and CM Life journalists in the past few days, seriously and choose a new student media director who will not pose so grave a conflict for Central Michigan's student journalists.
SPJ's 8,000 members believe strongly in the free press as a cornerstone of liberty, and we hope you and the Central Michigan University administration do as well.
Yours truly, Sonny Albarado, President Society of Professional Journalists email@example.com