Western Washington University senators reject proposal on newspaper archive ‘takedowns’

The student senate at Western Washington University on Wednesday voted down a resolution designed to compel student media to change online archives if alumni found content that damaged their professional reputation.

Last week, the student senate heard from members of WWU’s student media arguing the proposal infringed on their First Amendment rights and was otherwise ineffective because student government does not oversee student publications.

Of 11 senators, none voted for the proposal. Nine voted against it and two senators abstained.

Gina Cole, editor in chief of The Western Front student newspaper, said she is happy the proposal ended but is curious about why the two senators abstained.

“It not being unanimous, but still having no ‘yes’ votes says a lot,” she said. “But overall a win is a win.”

Jennifer Karchmer, a veteran independent journalist and senior instructor in the communication department, spoke before the vote.

Karchmer spoke for about three minutes and referred to the resolution’s letter of context, which said student life was not “real life” and “more of a petri dish or practice run.”

“I find that somewhat alarming in that at the university level, students are adults and this is indeed the ‘real world’ and reminded them of all the real-world contributions that students are making in the community,” she said.

Karchmer said if a student thought she was not hired because of a quote or photo in a newspaper, then she needs to go back to the employer to get proof.

“If they feel like they were discriminated against, then they need to go to an equal opportunity office and file a claim and have some evidence,” she said.

Karchmer made a distinction between corrections or clarifications that are the responsibility of the paper and content a source might later regret in a hiring process.

“There’s a real difference between a source or reader coming to a newspaper and saying, ‘this information is incorrect, or there needs to be a clarification, this is out of context’ versus someone who voluntarily offers themselves as a source, they get photographed, they get written about in the newspaper about, I don’t know, legalizing marijuana or their lifestyle or whatever the issue is. Then an employer reads that and the employer’s worked up about it and decides not to hire them,” Karchmer said. “Again, you got to take that up with the employer. You don’t go to the newspaper and retract information.”

The vote received a round of applause from the audience, and Cole said she was proud of the turnout.

“A lot of people cared about this, and I think we managed to educate the student senate and they voted the right way,” she said.