Grambling State editor receives College Press Freedom Award

Arlington, Va. — A college newspaper editor who successfully fought the efforts of administrators to impose prior review on the paper has received the 2007 College Press Freedom Award.

Darryl D. Smith, former editor of The Gramblinite at Grambling State University in Louisiana, was named the winner Saturday at the Associated Collegiate Press/College Media Advisers National Convention in Washington, D.C., although he was unable to attend the ceremony. The award, sponsored by the Student Press Law Center and the Associated Collegiate Press, is given each year to a college journalist or college news medium that has demonstrated outstanding support for the free press rights of students.

In January, Grambling State Provost Robert Dixon suspended The Gramblinite‘s operation until better “quality assurance” could be put in place, according to a memorandum Dixon sent to the school’s publication director. Smith, then the paper’s editor, said the move came after Dixon had complained about negative articles that had run in the paper.

Smith spread word of the shutdown by distributing fliers around campus and contacting free-press advocacy organizations and local media. The school lifted the suspension after about a week, but only after requiring the faculty adviser to review each issue before publication in the future. After continued pressure from students and organizations such as College Media Advisers and the SPLC, Grambling revoked its prior review policy.

Clashes between administrators and The Gramblinite have continued, however. In late September, University President Horace Judson ordered the paper to take down all coverage on its Web site of an anti-racism lesson at Grambling’s Alma J. Brown Elementary lab school. The lesson focused on the Jena Six case in Louisiana. One image posted on The Gramblinite‘s Web site — which the paper’s editors had removed before Judson’s order — showed an elementary student being held up with her head through a noose. The paper since has reposted almost all of the material.

During the conflict in January, Smith told an SPLC reporter that his experience had reaffirmed the importance of standing up for his principles.

“You’ve got to keep your head up against the university and keep fighting for what’s right,” Smith said.

Mike Hiestand, legal consultant to the SPLC, cited Smith’s “courage and commitment to the cause of press freedom” in his speech presenting the award on Saturday.

“His willingness to stand and fight for what was right paid off,” Hiestand said today. “Darryl didn’t just memorize the First Amendment for a history class, he put it to work. We can all learn a very important lesson from that. “

Founded in 1921, the National Scholastic Press Association and its college division, the Associated Collegiate Press, provide rating services and critical analyses for print and electronic student news media and sponsor the largest annual national conventions for student journalists and their advisers.

Since its founding in 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the only national organization exclusively devoted to providing free legal advice and assistance to student journalists and advisers and serving as an advocate for their free press and freedom of information rights.

Contact: Mike Hiestand, SPLC legal consultant: (703) 807-1904