Fla. students respond to cancellation by creating new paper

FLORIDA – If you can’t beat ’em, try something else.

That is what student journalists at Tallahassee Community College decided to do in August when school administrators temporarily canceled the school’s newspaper production class because of low student registration.

With the course’s cancellation, production of the school newspaper, The Talon, was halted for the first time in 32 years. The hiatus lasted just the first week of school, when administrators decided to reopen the class in light of student response.

Regardless, some of the students who signed up for The Talon, dismayed at the school’s decision to nix the class, rallied together and started their own independent publication, aptly named The Phoenix.

Lynda Moultry, editor of The Phoenix and former editor of The Talon, told the Tallahassee Democrat that she felt that someone was trying to dismantle The Talon.

“Somebody does not want this paper to be published,” said Moultry. “Every idea we came up with to save it [the paper] was shot down…. I feel like the people at TCC, they deserve a paper, just like the people at Florida State University and Florida A&M University.”

According to a Democrat article, TCC officials reported that just six students signed up for a newspaper production course. Fifteen students are needed for the class to operate.

Some student journalists at the paper, however, saw the newspaper course’s demise as a way to eliminate the publication because it was stirring up too much trouble with the administration.

In the same article, Debra Austin, TCC’s vice president for educational services, said student claims that TCC was trying to get rid of the paper were not accurate.

“My response is that we certainly weren’t trying to get rid of the newspaper, particularly in light of the fact that we hired a full-time instructor this semester,” Austin said.

In addition, Dana Peck, the first-year adviser for the paper, was accused by Moultry of practicing prior review.

“[T]he newly hired adviser for the course, Dana Peck, informed me that she intended to dramatically alter the way the newspaper is produced,” wrote Moultry in an opinion piece published in the Democrat.

“Peck said she was not an adviser, but an instructor, and would demand to read every article before it went to print. Student press law calls this prior review, and prior review is illegal – regardless of why it’s practiced,” stated Moultry.

Responding to the issues, the adviser authored a column published in the Democrat. Peck wrote: “Anyone wondering if [TCC] censors its student newspaper has a handy way of finding out: Read it” she said. “A glance at The Talon editions published over the past year will show that students questioned administrators, challenged college procedures and offered liberal servings of salacious language to intrigue their readers.”

Peck, who is a former reporter for the Democrat, continued: “As for publications in the future, no TCC administrators have passed a rule that they would review student’s stories before they’re printed.”

She continued: “By the students’ own invitation, I work with them on their stories, including reading them for possible libel…. TCC does have an expectation, however, that its students will learn journalism. And that’s what they’re about to do.”

In her editorial, Moultry said prior review takes away from the role of being a student editor.

“What happens when the faculty adviser becomes ultimately responsible for collecting, reading and editing the stories, as is currently practiced at the TCC school-run newspaper?” she wrote.