Wyoming Students Win College Media Award


Contact: Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director

703.807.1904 / director@splc.org

The staff of the Northwest Trail, the student newspaper at NorthwestCollege, a two-year school in Powell, Wyo., is the 2010 winner of the CollegePress Freedom Award for continuing to pursue serious journalism on controversialsubjects, even after the newspaper’s adviser was fired for encouragingstudents to do exactly that.

The College Press Freedom Award is sponsored by the Student Press LawCenter and the Associated Collegiate Press annually to recognize an individualor group that has demonstrated courage in advancing free-press rights forcollege journalists. The award will be presented Oct. 30 at the National CollegeJournalism Convention in Louisville, organized by the ACP and by College MediaAdvisers.

Attorney Frank LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC, said the awardsalutes the determination of the staff to continue to pursue topical andhard-hitting news stories even after adviser Ron Feemster was removed lastschool year. “We had many worthy nominees for this award, but whatelevated the Northwest Trail‘s work was the fact that, after Prof.Feemster was fired, the staff did not retreat from pursuing serious andcontroversial topics,” LoMonte said. “It was that fortitude that weall admired and wanted to recognize, in hopes that it will inspire other collegejournalists who are also facing adversity.”

Although Northwest College has fewer than 2,000 students, its studentjournalists produce a 16-page weekly newspaper that has been recognized for itsexcellence; the current co-editor, Mark Keierleber, is a finalist for Reporterof the Year at the National College Media Convention.

The staff of the Northwest Trail has taken on controversial topicsincluding questionable sports recruiting practices, and equity in faculty andadministrator pay. Even after Feemster was notified that his contract as adviserwould not be renewed, the students broke what became a national news storyquestioning their college president’s use of public money to send areligious-themed recruiting letter targeting fellow members of his Mormon faith.

Feemster, who served two years at Northwest College before being let go,and is now a Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Journalism & NewMedia in Bangalore, India, said he admires the determination of the student journalists. Feemster nominatedthe students in a letter that pointed out the many obstacles that his studentswere forced to overcome, including unjustified denials of public-recordsrequests and open hostility from faculty.

“The Northwest Trail reporters and editors were among the mostcourageous journalists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,”he said. “Last spring Northwest College was a hard place foranyone — especially young student reporters — to report a story.Back-room deals too often took the place of shared governance, administratorsstalled and stonewalled reporters, and the Trail staffers learned thatthey could take no piece of information at face value.”

He continued: “It would have been easy for the Trail reportersto back down and write soft news when they learned that I was not coming back.Instead, they stepped up and broke national news about questionable recruitingpractices at the school. It was an inspiring and memorable experience. I’llalways treasure my work with those exceptional young people as a personal andprofessional highlight of my life.”

LoMonte said the retaliation endured by students at the Northwest Trailand their adviser exemplifies the plight of journalism at too many schoolsthat fail to appreciate the value of a free and independent student editorialvoice.

“The censorship problems that we encounter are especially acute atsmall, image-conscious schools where administrators portray honest coverage ofthe school’s shortcomings as an act of disloyalty,” LoMonte said.”The students at the Northwest Trail understood better. Theyunderstood that, just as it is an act of patriotism to question one’sgovernment officials, it is an act of loyalty to question whether administratorsare running the school properly. These students were working in one of the leastsupportive environments possible for tough, independent journalism, yet theyrefused to quit when quitting would have been the easy thing.”

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted to educating highschool and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied inthe First Amendment, and supporting the student news media in covering importantissues free from censorship. The Center provides free information andeducational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a widevariety of legal topics on its website at www.splc.org.