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Journalism organizations join forces for “J-Team” response to college censorship


Aug. 19, 2015

David Cuillier, SPJ FOI Committee Chair, 520-248-6242 (MST),
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134,

INDIANAPOLIS---Leading national journalism organizations today announced a new intensive boot-camp training project aimed at providing support to college journalists who are facing unusual levels of adversity in covering their campuses.

“The J-Team” will draw on the combined resources of the Student Press Law Center, Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters & Editors to provide hands-on investigative reporting training and ongoing mentoring and guidance to college journalists whose institutions have used their authority to shut down independent watchdog news coverage.

In its first outing, The J-Team will work with student journalists from Iowa’s Muscatine Community College, where a nationally publicized censorship case is pending in U.S. district court. Student editors from The Calumet newspaper are suing their college for removing a supportive journalism adviser and otherwise retaliating against the newspaper over coverage that included reporting on a faculty committee member who voted to give a competitive scholarship to his own niece. In response to the censorship, a group of current and former MCC students raised more than $5,000 in an online crowdfunding campaign to launch a new independent media outlet, The Spotlight, that will supplement the efforts of The Calumet.

Trainers representing the three organizations will be at the University of Iowa campus on Aug. 28 for a day-long intensive workshop aimed at helping Muscatine students more effectively expose the stories their college is intent on keeping secret. The workshop is being hosted by The Daily Iowan, one of the nation’s top student-run news publications, at the invitation of Daily Iowan publisher William Casey. The journalism organizations will provide ongoing assistance throughout the school year to MCC student journalists to help bring investigative reporting projects to completion.

“The most effective response to colleges that try to intimidate journalists is to do even more aggressive, impactful journalism,” said SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte, one of the trainers. “The J-Team will send a clear message to colleges across the country that, when you attack student journalists, you are awakening the entire journalism community and your efforts to silence inquisitive journalism will only backfire.”

David Cuillier, Freedom of Information Committee chair for SPJ, said it is essential that professionals band together to defend the student press.

“Universities and high schools throughout the nation have aggressively muzzled students with the aim of creating a generation of sheep," Cuillier said. "We cannot sit back. These students are the future of American journalism, and the J-Team has their backs. I pity the fools who mock the First Amendment.”

Mark Horvit, executive director of IRE, said efforts to censor or silence student journalists violate core principles of higher education.

“Students are supposed to be in an environment that promotes learning, not one that attempts to stunt their development and silence their voices,” Horvit said. “When campus administrators take actions against the student press, they’re sending a terrible message to the entire student body.”

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has served as the nation’s only nonprofit legal assistance service dedicated to the needs of student journalists and the educators who work with them. More information about the work of the Student Press Law Center is available on its website at

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

Investigative Reporters and Editors is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting. IRE was formed in 1975 to create a forum in which journalists throughout the world could help each other by sharing story ideas, newsgathering techniques and news sources.


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