N.C. college, student newspaper reach agreement to grant paper independence

NORTH CAROLINA — After months of wrangling and discussions, Craven Community College and its student newspaper, The Communicator, have reached a deal that gives the student editors editorial control and relieves the school from any liability concerning the paper’s content.

The two-page memorandum that establishes the paper’s independence was worked on by members of the paper’s staff and college administrators.

“The college recognizes that The Communicator is an independent student publication,” said Corey Friedman, the newspaper’s editor in chief. “The memorandum greatly reduces the possibility of censorship.”

A policy of prior review had previously been suggested, after administrators were upset over a sex column printed in the paper’s March 4 edition. The policy would have created a committee of students and administrators to look at any stories when the students and the adviser had different opinions.

Friedman canceled the column, which had sparked complaints to the newspaper and the administration. He also wrote an apology in the paper about the column. The paper’s staff decided to write an editorial policy for the paper, but was upset the administration wanted a prior review committee included in the policy.

The issue of creating an editorial policy first arose in October 2004, when the newspaper printed the name and address of a student accused of assault. The paper printed the information against the administration’s wishes and was forced to block out the name and address in the paper.

Friedman and administrators say they hope the new policy will help to avoid any similar situations in the future.

Under the memorandum, which is scheduled to go before the Craven Community College board of trustees in July, the paper’s adviser can, but is not required to, look at the paper before it goes to print and make suggestions.

Craven Community College spokesman Sandy Wall said he is happy the students and the administration have been able to reach an agreement.

“Contrary to what many people thought, the intention was never to shut the newspaper down or subvert people’s rights,” Wall said. “We support [the newspaper] and thought it was a nice thing to have on campus.”

Cindy Hess, executive vice president and chief academic officer for Craven, said the memorandum is a good agreement between the students and the college administration.

“It was just a matter of listening to the issues the students raised and expressing any of our concerns and talking about different scenarios,” Hess said.

The memorandum comes after a local publishing company, Freedom ENC Communications, decided not to pursue working with The Communicator.

In April 2005, the college considered giving the company the right to publish the paper as a means to end debate over censorship and control of the paper. Under the agreement the company would have assumed editorial and advertising control.

Vernon DeBolt, president of Freedom ENC Communications, said the company decided not to pursue taking over the paper because staff members of The Communicator expressed concern that the company could censor them.

“We wouldn’t have had any control over the content,” DeBolt said, despite an April 5 report in the local New Bern Sun Journal that the group would be in charge of the editorial and advertising content of the newspaper. “I couldn’t understand why they would be opposed to it.”

Friedman, who also works for Freedom Communications, Inc., said the staff was “bitterly” against the takeover and said that it was best for everyone that the deal fell through.

Because Craven Community College does not have a journalism program, some administrators thought having professional journalists working with the students would be a good thing.

“We still see lots of benefits from working with the Freedom Group,” Wall said. “We think it would be a nice way for the students to get some real world experience, but the agreement we have is a good one and we’re ready to move forward.”

–By Rebecca McNulty

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