President forces paper to take down coverage of anti-racism lesson

LOUISIANA — Administrators at Grambling State University on Friday ordered the student newspaper to take down an article and photos about an anti-racism lesson — including a photo depicting an elementary student with a makeshift noose around her neck.

The Gramblinite sent a reporter and photographer Friday to cover an event designed to teach young students about racism in the context of the Jena Six case. One of the images taken showed a girl — a student at Grambling’s Alma J. Brown Elementary lab school — held up in the air with a noose placed around her neck.

“We knew it was a controversial photo,” said De’Eric Henry, editor in chief of The Gramblinite. “That’s why we did not run it in the paper. We ran it as a photo gallery online.”

The Monroe, La. News Star reported Sunday that the child featured in the photo apparently was taking part in a lesson about events surrounding the six black students charged in the 2006 beating of a white student in Jena, La.

The so-called “Jena Six” case garnered national media attention when the black students involved in the beating were arrested and charged with attempted murder. The beating followed several racially charged incidents in town, including nooses being hung from a tree at Jena High School by several white students. The charges against the black students have since been reduced.

Henry said he received a call from his news editor while driving to Dallas to cover a sports event. The news editor told him that members of the administration had requested the photos be removed.

Henry held a phone conference with his fellow editors, deciding to remove only the photos involving the noose.

But Henry returned from his trip Monday morning to find all the photos, and the story itself, removed from the Web site. Henry said someone from the university president’s office had called Wanda Peters, The Gramblinite‘s adviser, and asked that all the material be taken down.

“We walked in this morning; she informed us that she had taken them off,” Henry said.

As of Monday morning, The Gramblinite was in the process of putting the story and all the photos — except those involving the noose — back on the newspaper’s Web site, Henry said.

University President Horace Judson told The News Star he had ordered the pictures taken down.

“These are minors at our school and this is a student paper that still must practice complete accountability,” Judson told The News Star.

In the context of the situation, Judson said, “it was certainly my judgment to take those pictures down.”

Staff at The Gramblinite released a statement Monday defending their decision to run the photos.

“We do not approve of censorship or prior review, and we stand by our editorial decision to inform the students of Grambling State University of news events that [a]ffect them on campus, in the community and everywhere,” Henry said in the statement.

Henry said the decision to pull the story and pictures went too far.

“I just feel that people need to respect the media,” Henry said. “It’s our job. It’s nothing personal. We can only report and take photographs of what we see. Grambling State University has an issue with respecting the media, and we’re willing as a staff to stand up for our rights as journalists.”

This isn’t the first run-in The Gramblinite has had with the administration. Earlier this year, the school’s provost stopped publication of the newspaper. The Gramblinite resumed printing eight days later, but only after agreeing to prior review.

Henry said that the newspaper since has made a deal with the university eliminating prior review.

Despite last week’s setback, Henry said having the photos and story temporarily pulled will not deter his staff from reporting the news.

“It appears that we’re in target range of everyone,” Henry said. “We’re willing to accept being the target, because no one has killed us yet. And what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

For More Information:

  • Grambling State University implements prior review Spring 2007 Report
  • Grambling State editor to ask administration to eliminate prior review News Flash, 1/31/2007
  • *UPDATED* Grambling State paper publishing again, subject to prior review News Flash, 1/26/2007
  • Grambling State student paper elects to shut down for fear of adviser termination News Flash, 1/24/2007