Christopher Newport backs off plans to cut funding for printed student newspaper

VIRGINIA — Administrators at Christopher Newport University in Newport News,Va., have backed off a proposal to eliminate funding for theprint edition of the Captain’s Log, theschool’s student newspaper.

The proposal, whichhad been presented as part of a campus-wide effort to “go green,” would havetaken effect at the start of the 2012-13 academic year.

Despite theadministration’s claims, student journalists saw the plan as a direct responseto some of the newspaper’s content over the past year.

“The excuse for ‘goinggreen’ [was] really just a euphemism for getting rid of the paper because theadministration didn’t like some of the issues we were reporting on,” Captain’sLog Editor-in-Chief Emily Cole said, referring to a controversial story onthe operational suspension of a campus fraternity.

Cole first learned ofthe administration’s change of heart through an email sent by universityspokeswoman Lori Jacobs last Tuesday.

“The discussion withthe Captain’s Log to embrace 21st-century technology, consistent withthe CNU ‘go green’ initiative, has been misunderstood and misconstrued as anattack on First Amendment rights,” Jacobs wrote. “Therefore, there will be nofurther discussion about discontinuing print funding and the Captain’s Log willhave the funding to continue its print edition.”

Cole said she was“shocked” by the sudden turn of events. She speculated that the change was dueto recent press coverage on the newspaper’s situation.

After the StudentPress Law Center picked up the CNU story last Monday, the Daily Press —a local Newport News publication — ran an article about the Captain’s Log dispute and an editorial in support of the student newspaper.

Within 24 hours of thenews coverage, Jacobs sent her email with word of the administration’sswitch.

“I think theadministration saw that story above the fold in the Daily Press and justfreaked out,” Cole said. “They just wanted this to go away. We would not havereceived that email [from Jacobs] if not for all of the media coverage.”

Frank LoMonte,executive director of the SPLC, agreed.

“There’s no questionthat the light of public scrutiny turned things around here,” he said. “It’snothing but positive that the administration has recognized that you can’tsustain a successful college newspaper by killing off the print edition.”

Jacobs also wrote that“the Captain’s Log has the constitutional right to publish whatever itsees fit. The administration has not — and will not — interfere with thecontent of the paper.”

However, Captain’sLog adviser Terry Lee said he will remain watchful until he sees somethingin writing about the newspaper’s long-term budget.

To date, the newspaperstaff has not received a formal budget proposal from the administration.

“The air is gettingclearer, but it isn’t smog-free yet,” Lee said. “We’re optimistic that it’sgoing to work out, but once things are clarified we’ll know exactly where westand.”

Lee added that he isstill concerned about the future of the school’s Student Media Board.

In a letter presentedto the media board — an umbrella organization that serves as a link betweenstudent publications and the administration — by Dean of Students Kevin Hugheson May 11, the administration voiced its desire to transform the group into aclub.

Lee said the mediaboard has operated “more like a board of trustees would,” explaining that adowngrade to club status would inhibit its ability to serve as a firewall for afree student press.

He said he isfrustrated that the administration has continued to address funding for studentpublications without first consulting with the board.

“At the very least,they need to run their ideas by the Student Media Board,” he said.

Matthew Davenport, arising senior at CNU and chairman of the media board, agreed, adding that the proposalto alter the organization’s structure “seems like it’s coming from harshdecision-making at the top with little rational thinking.”

Davenport is currentlyworking on a letter to school administrators in which he hopes to advocate forthe preservation of the board in its current form.

He will also try torestore funding for Limelight and Currents — two student-runliterary magazines. Both magazines were stripped of funding after they fellshort of their target number of issues this year.

Jacobs wrote in anemail to the SPLC that there has been no reconsideration of the decision to cutfunding for the publications.

For the Captain’sLog, though, the attention now turns to the coming school year.

While Cole willcontinue to be watchful of the CNU administration, she believes most of herwork to maintain the newspaper’s print edition is behind her.

“I said I would dowhat I needed to do to keep the print newspaper, and as far as I know therewill be one,” Cole said.

She is still waitingon a response to a request for administrative email correspondence about the Captain’sLog, which she submitted last week under the Virginia Freedomof Information Act.

LoMonte said theefforts of Cole and the newspaper staff call attention to the importance ofquick, informed action.

“It became clear thatthe students were going to push back and felt strongly that the print editionwas essential,” LoMonte said. “Their efforts show that, as a student, if you doyour homework, gather your facts and organize, you can win the battle.”

UPDATE: The university plans to respond to Cole’s freedom of information request by June 22, according to a letter she received today.