In a Dec. 17 article, the Monroe (La.) News Star questionedwhether the Student Press Law Center was aware of charges of plagiarism broughtagainst the Gramblinite, Grambling State University’s studentnewspaper, when the SPLC and the Associated Collegiate Press awarded its 2007College Press Freedom Award to Darryl Smith, former editor in chief of thenewspaper, in October.
Mike Hiestand, interim executive director of the Student Press Law Centerand a member of the selection committee, responds:
The Student Press Law Center was aware of administrative charges of”sloppy journalism” and “grammatical errors” in theGramblinite prior to our making the award. Indeed, such charges againstnews media are common and have become a staple defense of censors trying todefend their actions. However, as the SPLC told the reporter for the NewsStar, neither that — nor even these charges of plagiarism — alter the fact that a public university shut down its student newspaper, imposedan illegal policy of mandatory administrative prior review and tried to justifyit all by pointing to a court decision from another jurisdiction that the SPLCand many others believe poses the most serious threat to press freedom everfaced by college student media in this country.
While plagiarism is a serious offense, it is no excuse for what Gramblingadministrators did. We don’t allow government officials to shut downnewspapers in America. We criticize the press, we submit letters to the editor,we demand that they acknowledge and are accountable for their mistakes. But wedon’t lock the doors to the newsroom.
As an ethical violation, a charge of plagiarism is properly handledinternally, and it appears that is what Darryl did. As editor in chief, heresponded quickly and in the manner he felt most appropriate. The bottom line isthat it was his call, not GSU administrators’.
The College Press Freedom Award is an award recognizing courage in defenseof press freedom. There are other awards that recognize outstanding journalism.But you don’t refuse to give the spelling bee champ her award because shemight not look great in a bikini.
Darryl Smith understood the seriousness of the threat posed by Gramblingadministration, and he faced that threat with strength and with courage. He didwhat we hope every student editor in America would do in that situation, andthat is why he was awarded — and why he continues to be deserving of — the 2007 College Press Freedom Award.
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