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SPJ contributes $5,000 for lawsuit to get college newspaper adviser reinstated


April 16, 2015

Dana Neuts, SPJ National President, 360-920-1737 (PDT), dneuts@spj.org
Hagit Limor, SPJ LDF Committee Chair, 513-305-0090, hlimormedia@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists is contributing $5,000 from its Legal Defense Fund to assist with legal fees in a student newspaper adviser’s lawsuit, including a complaint and preliminary injunction filed today, against Northern Michigan University.

Cheryl Reed was ousted from her position as adviser of the North Wind student newspaper on April 3 after the newspaper’s board disagreed with the editorial direction of the North Wind. The vote came eight days after the chair of the university’s Board of Trustees sent an all-campus email disparaging the North Wind’s coverage of the trustees’ travel expenses. Reed filed a lawsuit today with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan through media lawyer Paul McAdoo of McAdoo Law PLLC in Ypsilanti, Mich.

“Boards that oversee student media cannot pick and choose news coverage,” said Dana Neuts, SPJ National President. “News reports may not always be in the university’s favor, and they may not always be done in a way university leaders would like, but it is a student media adviser’s job to help student journalists learn and grow. Advisers must be left to teach, and student journalists must be able to learn, without fear of retribution when administrators or boards view coverage as less than favorable.”

SPJ issued a statement last week, calling on the university to reinstate Reed as adviser and reconsider the application of student Michael Williams who was seeking the position of Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-16 term. Even though Williams currently serves as the paper’s managing editor and was the only candidate for the top position for next year, the North Wind board voted against him and appointed no one.

"The journalists of The North Wind and their adviser have shown remarkable fortitude in the face of a campaign of hostility and harassment, orchestrated by top administrators, meant to discourage them from gathering and using public records in ways unflattering to the university. It means the world to these students to know that SPJ, the voice of the nation's most knowledgeable journalists, recognizes the wrong that's being done and is pulling out all the stops to help," said Attorney Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, who is working with McAdoo on the lawsuit.

The North Wind reported on April 9 that Steven Neiheisel, vice president for enrollment and student services, influenced student members of the North Wind Board of Directors to vote against Freedom of Information requests and the reinstatement of Reed as adviser.

“The LDF Committee agrees that this is a clear violation of the adviser’s and students’ First Amendment Rights,” said Hagit Limor, SPJ LDF Committee chair. “They are being punished largely for their coverage of the university board members’ travel. This is exactly the type of situation SPJ had in mind when the Legal Defense Fund was created.”

SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund is a unique account that can be tapped for providing journalists with legal or direct financial assistance in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The primary role of the LDF is to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings, which can be the most expensive way to defend the First Amendment. Application to the fund it approved by either a small committee or by the national board, depending on the level of assistance sought. The committee works through the year raising funds for LDF. To donate to SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund, visit the LDF page on SPJ’s website.

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 spj.org.


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