College officials, student newspaper editors debate outsourcing paper

NORTH CAROLINA — In an attempt to resolve debates over a proposed policy of prior review of the student newspaper, Craven Community College may outsource the Campus Communicator to a private publisher.

At an April 4 student council meeting, Craven’s executive vice president and chief academic officer Cindy Hess proposed outsourcing the newspaper to Freedom ENC Communications, a local newspaper publisher, as a “compromise meant to end the dissent and threat of lawsuits” by student journalists, according to the New Bern Sun Journal. A 10-1 vote supported the proposal, but no final decision will be made until a vote by the college’s board of trustees.

College spokesman Sandy Wall said the proposal would grant a one-year license to Freedom ENC to publish the newspaper, with students remaining on the newspaper’s staff. The New Bern Sun Journal reported on April 5 that Freedom ENC would be in charge of the Communicator‘s editorial content and advertising department. Student Jason Thomas criticized the proposal in the article as being the college’s “easy way out” of resolving their attempt to infringe on students’ free speech. But Wall responded that the proposal is a “win-win-win scenario for all parties.”

Debate over the proposed prior review policy, which would have created a committee made up of administrators and students leaders to review information when there is a disagreement between the editor and advisers on content, stems from a sex advice column that premiered in the Campus Communicator on March 4. Amanda Worley’s column, “Between the Sheets,” gave suggestions to help people motivate their sex lives, including “dancing or stripping” and “role playing.” Editor Corey Friedman said that over the next three days, the newspaper was “flooded” with complaints. People were also complaining to the school administration, threatening to withdraw their donations and not send their children to the school.

Friedman cancelled the column, and the newspaper apologized and made it “known publicly that that column would not run again,” he said. On March 7 he met with Craven Community College President Scott Ralls, who told Friedman that he was very distressed because of the negative attention Worley’s column brought to the college.

Wall said the dispute surrounding Worley’s column “heightened the sense that the newspaper had no policy in place and that there was a critical need for one.”

On March 10 the newspaper’s senior editors met with Ralls and several other administrators who spoke more specifically about drafting an editorial policy.

Friedman said the staff agreed to draft the new editorial policy because there was no policy in place and they felt it was necessary to have one in writing. However, he said, at that time he and the other staff members did not think it would contain mandatory prior review and a “censorship committee.”

Wall said the “Advisory Committee” was intended to “advise the staff on questions related to unprotected speech, such as libel, obscenity, invasion of a fellow student’s privacy and matters disruptive to the college’s educational mission.” However, he said, the committee would not be able to pull material from the publication “simply because it presents the college or another student organization in a negative manner.”

The notion of implementing an editorial policy was first raised in October, when the newspaper conflicted with the school administration over printing the name and address of a student assault suspect. All 1,100 copies of the newspaper were held up by school administration at the college mailroom until Friedman consented to conceal the information with correction fluid.

Wall said several students, including the alleged suspect, contacted administrators about the issue. After a meeting with Friedman, the newspaper staff and administrators agreed that written guidelines should be developed for the newspaper. Friedman and adviser Monica Dowe drafted about 20 pages of guidelines, which they planned on passing to the student council for approval, but the college administration drafted the new editorial policy before these guidelines were passed. Friedman said the guidelines he and Dowe drafted would have been acceptable to the newspaper staff because it did not subject the Communicator to prior review. However, he said he believes the school used the guidelines that the newspaper created and turned them into a more restrictive editorial policy.

Wall said the new proposal to outsource the Communicator stems from “a desire to resolve this divisive, time-consuming disagreement to everyone’s satisfaction,” and it will ultimately improve the school’s relationship with the newspaper.

The board of trustees will vote on April 19 to approve or reject the proposal to outsource the Campus Communicator.

–By Diane Krauthamer

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