GEORGIA — As students returned to classes Monday at MaconState College, they found the bins of their student newspaper, TheMatrix, empty, but with former editors nearby distributing copies of anindependent paper, The Student Free Press.
Rising tensions at the newspaper led the editorial board to resign in May,but many of the students planned to return to the paper as writers. Troublebegan when a new Publications Coordinator was hired about a year ago andpersonalities clashed. Former editor in chief Jenny Murr said when sheapproached Ray Lightner, the publications coordinator, about adding newdistribution bins across campus, he said the newspaper was not good enough.
At a planning session Aug. 11, Lightner announced to the students thatThe Matrix would be on an indefinite hiatus because the college had tocreate bylaws for student media.
After the editors chose not to return, the college decided to rethink itsmedia policies, said Lynn McCraney, dean of students.
“What we found that we needed to do was go back to square one so thatfuture students in [the editors’] position didn’t face those sameproblems,” McCraney said.
Earlier this summer, the college decided the Student Affairs committee, apart of the Academic Council, would review a proposed publications policy thatwill create a media advisory board.
“We’ve not had comprehensive bylaws. We’ve not had apublications committee or any type of governing authority for our newspaperbefore,” McCraney said. “We’ve not had a structure.We’ve not had any type of documentation or any type of foundation thatclearly details that students have the right to choose what materialthey’re going to print without being sanctioned or punished becausesomeone didn’t like what they wrote.”
After hearing about the postponement, Murr and other students created theirown paper. The first issue was printed using home-computer printers in a flierstyle. The staff handed out about 500 copies across campus on the first day ofclass and picked up about 10 more members. But the organization hopes to raisesome advertising money and get the paper printed from the same printer TheMatrix used.
The paper will change the publication schedule from weekly to bi-weekly butcontinue to distribute to the college’s second campus, Warner Robins, 30miles away. Judd Printing, the paper’s printer, has agreed to print TheStudent Free Press in black and white for $155 for a four-page paper or $170for an eight-page paper, Murr said.
McCraney said she was happy the students were creating their own paper, buthopes when the school newspaper returns they will decide to work for it.
“One of the wonderful things about working in a college community isthat it is a safe place for people to be able to speak their minds and expressthemselves about various issues,” she said.
McCraney said The Matrix should be able to print by early Septemberor mid-term once the college opens applications for editor in chief and thatperson can put together a staff.
The new bylaws will cover the newspaper, the television station and theliterary magazine, but the newspaper is the only student media organization notpublishing as school begins. McCraney said the other organizations have not hadany issues like the newspaper.
Murr said students who wanted to be involved with the newspaper wereencouraged to work with the television station while they wait for TheMatrix to print again.
But Murr and a group of about 15 to 20 students did not want to wait. Thestudents felt that the delay in publication was a means of the collegesuppressing their speech. The situation between the college and newspaper staffhad gone from “bad to worse,” Murr said.
“They are trying any way they can to get around the rights of thestudents and the free press,” Murr said.
McCraney disagreed. She said the postponement was to ensure that thestudents maintained their rights.
“This college respects the rights of students to run a freenewspaper,” she said. “What we do want to do is provide them adocument and a structure and a format that clearly lays out their rights asmembers of the press and their corollary responsibilities.”
As a senior communications information technology student, Murr thought shewould spend this school year preparing to graduate and find a job. Instead shehas found herself in a fight she did not want to be in to ensure future studentshave the right to a free press after she leaves.
“I want to bow out and give them the strong legs so that whenI’m not a part of it anymore, they can keep going,” Murr said.