NORTH CAROLINA — Administrators at Craven Community College in New Bern prevented the release of 1,100 copies of the student paper until the newspaper staff agreed to conceal the address of a student charged in connection with an on-campus assault.
On Oct. 1, staff members used correction fluid on the front page of 1,100 copies of the Campus Communicator, blocking the name, age and address of the student suspect, editor Corey Friedman said. He obtained the information from the police incident report using the state open-records law.
Following a week of discussions with school officials and the student involved, Friedman said he consented to the censorship to allow distribution of the paper. Although the college only wanted the address blocked, Friedman voluntarily agreed to white out the name and age after meeting with the student.
“She was very upset, very emotional and threatened to sue the school a couple of times,” he said. “At that point I just didn’t think it was worth it to put up a fight. I could feel that the college had already exercised editorial control over the paper.”
The Communicator staff had debated the issue for several days before college officials got involved. Friedman said a member of the newspaper staff, concerned with the story, brought a draft of the front page to the college president.
College President Scott Ralls said members of the newspaper staff contacted him to express their concerns.
“Some called me at home, some spoke to our vice president,” he said. “[They were] very concerned about the fact that this information about her was going to be printed in the paper.”
Ralls said the student also voiced concerns about having her address printed. He said the school has a policy against releasing student records.
However, Friedman believes that the Communicator is not subject to the policy.
“I kept trying to make the case that the school is not releasing the information, that this is a student newspaper. And they said we are not an independent student paper.”
Courts have routinely protected the right of news organizations to publish the names of those charged with crimes.
Despite the paper’s “extraordinary amount of editorial freedom in the past,” the college said they reserve the right to censor the contents, Friedman said.
Friedman will attend the student’s trial, and if she is found guilty, the paper will print her name and age, he said. During the controversy, the paper adopted a policy of not printing student addresses.
The Communicator and the college are drafting separate editorial policies. Friedman said he is waiting to see both policies before deciding whether to take legal action.
“It’s a question of the public’s right to know versus one person’s right to privacy,” he said. “In this case the information was public record. We had every right to publish it.”