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SPJ, Student Press Law Center partner to support Grambling State journalism students

For immediate release:

Christine Tatum, President, (303) 881-8702
Mead Loop, Vice President, Campus Chapter Affairs (607) 274-3047
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211
Mark Goodman, Executive Director, Student Press Law Center, (703) 807-1904

INDIANAPOLIS — Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Student Press Law Center, two of the nation’s most ardent advocates of student journalism, are pleased that a suspension of publication imposed on Grambling State University’s student newspaper has been lifted.

However, SPJ and SPLC leaders are concerned about university officials’ continued efforts to control The Gramblinite’s content. Darryl Smith, student editor of the newspaper, told The (Monroe, La.) News Star that proposed measures to improve the paper’s “quality” amount to prior review.

“I think they’re going to pull stories, and I think they’re trying to control content,” said Smith.

The student editor also has claimed that the suspension was imposed because Grambling State officials didn’t like news coverage that cast the university in a negative light.

SPJ and the SPLC leaders applaud the Grambling State students’ fortitude and persistence and pledge to help defend their First Amendment rights.

SPJ leaders recommend that the university enact a written policy stating that university officials, including faculty members, will not suspend publication, require prior approval of content or engage in other acts of censorship directed at The Gramblinite. The Society strongly encourages the university to adopt SPJ’s Campus Media Statement, which states, in part, that student media are “designated public forums … free from censorship and advance approval of content. Student media are free to develop editorial policies and news coverage with the understanding that students and student organizations speak only for themselves.”

For more information about the Campus Media Statement, visit www.spj.org/students.

“I’m so tired of educators going on about how academically rigorous, accepting, community-oriented, student-focused and marketplace-of-ideas-honoring their institutions are – only to see them turn around and censor student publications,” said SPJ President Christine Tatum, an assistant business editor at The Denver Post. “Unfortunately, this happens all the time. Students should, regardless of their academic interests, consider an institution’s commitment to free speech before deciding whether to attend.”

Grambling State officials justified their actions by referencing the Hosty vs. Carter decision, which the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down in 2005. That ruling essentially states college and university students’ First Amendment rights are no greater than those of teenagers in high school.

“College and university officials have to understand that the First Amendment simply does not allow them to censor student publications because they are unhappy with the content decisions student editors have to make,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of the SPLC. “One aberrant court decision from another jurisdiction does not undo the last 35 years of legal precedent supporting the free press rights of college students.”

About SPJ

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, 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 and SDX, please visit www.spj.org.

About Student Press Law Center

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the nation’s only legal assistance agency devoted exclusively to educating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment and supporting the student news media in their struggle to cover important issues free from censorship. The Center provides free legal advice and information as well as low-cost educational materials for student journalists on a wide variety of legal topics. In addition, the SPLC operates a formal Attorney Referral Network of approximately 150 lawyers across the country who are available to provide free legal representation to local students when necessary. Approximately 2,500 student journalists, teachers and others contact the Center each year for help or information. Calls come from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.


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