Independent. We here at The Northerner throw that word around on our website, our email signatures, you name it. It’s almost like another meaningless slogan you hear on a television commercial.
But when we refer to this student-run newspaper, the inclusion of the word “independent” is not a catchphrase — it’s a word with strong meaning that we now find ourselves clinging to in fear that it might be taken away.
The university’s unilateral decision to move Student Media, the department in which The Northerner and Norse Code Radio reside, out of the Student Affairs division and into the College of Informatics and to toss aside our longstanding and well-respected newspaper adviser Gayle Brown — both without any significant student input — has created an atmosphere of mistrust. To top it off, the College of Informatics continues to try to diminish our independence.
While various members of the department and our new adviser have reassured us that they do not want to engage in any censorship or prior review, we find ourselves battling changes to Student Media.
Communications faculty confirmed in June that they discussed in the spring semester having someone copy edit The Northerner’s stories before publication. While that may help cut down on errant punctuation and misspelled words, it is a form of prior review and is a violation of our First Amendment rights.
As part of the change, the practicum class, where students get credit for working for Student Media, has changed.
Instead of students working independently on stories, then turning their drafts in to us and their professor at the same time, which removes the professor from our editing process and preserves our independence, the professor wanted to work with students every step of the way, editing their work before turning it in to us.
After much discussion, we agreed to leave the submission process as it was. But the professor will still play a heavy role in crafting stories.
Meanwhile, departmental planning still threatens to march on without our input. Now that we are part of Informatics, those who before wanted nothing to do with our operation suddenly want to put their two cents in on how we operate and in what direction we should go. New “collaborative” projects have been discussed, potentially pairing us on some projects with the dependent student television station Norse Access, which is crewed by NKU students but produced by NKU faculty.
News of these conversations and plans come to us indirectly, and we have not been included or consulted in these discussions. It wasn’t until we went to our adviser and expressed our concerns that we again feared a takeover of student media that we were invited to attend planning meetings. The first is scheduled for next week.
Through all of these changes, the potential for abuse is so strong that the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) characterized the process of the departmental move and removal of our adviser as “tone deaf [and] seemingly oblivious to the to the message of intimidation that [it] carries.”
The SPLC also wrote a letter to university president James Votruba about “how it appears the independence of students’ editorial voice is at risk. … Regrettably, the process at Northern Kentucky University lacked the transparency necessary for students, and the public, to have confidence in its fairness.”
We couldn’t agree more. However, we recognize at this point there is little to be done. By the time we were able to reach out to our new adviser to let her know that we did not support this process, she had already signed her contract and taken on her position. She, like us, is another victim of NKU’s College of Informatics’ bullying.
We do not demand the adviser hiring process be restarted immediately. Instead, we demand she be notified that her contract will not be renewed when it expires and the opportunity to reapply for the position of Student Media adviser in a transparent, open process, which includes not only input from students, but a committee on which student members also serve.
I’m sure there are days when you wish our paper weren’t independent. Some of our stories make the university you love and depend on look like a university with its head screwed on backwards. Or a story comes out about your favorite professor, club or sports team that does not shed the most positive light on them.
There are even those days when we embarrass you because of a missed typo or a poorly crafted sentence that a well-trained journalism professor would surely never let go to print.
But imagine a country where the President of the United States, or someone under him or her, had to approve a story idea or review a story before it went to print. Sure, there may be instances where that review would result in the correction of a misunderstood fact or a small typo. It would almost definitely keep any information that could embarrass the country or make it look bad from being shared.
But then there would not be accountability for the government, and there would not be the chance to read or understand the diverse points of view that make our country rich — and free.
The idea of having a better newspaper is something you should have. Each and every day, we as your student newspaper, must strive to be better than — not the same as — we were the day before.
This is the commitment we make to our readers. However, a student newspaper that loses its independence cannot get better; it cannot serve you or its university.
At our state-run university, the actions of the College of Informatics and its staff in desiring access to our newspaper content before it goes to print, is prior review. It goes against all standards of journalistic integrity; but more importantly, it violates your First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.
As we move forward under this new division, we ask that you join us in supporting our independence and demanding that our campus continue to reflect the free country that we love.