MASSACHUSETTS — Student editors at Framingham State’s weekly newspaper have reported vandalism of nearly a fifth of its print circulation, a protest of the controversial placement of two front-page articles.
Two unidentified students claimed responsibility for damaging nearly 400 copies of the Feb. 22 edition of The Gatepost, folding them to obscure two unrelated stories — one that memorializing a student’s death, the other the results an informal survey on FSU students’ drinking and driving habits.
Editor-in-chief Spencer Buell explained some students thought the paper had insensitively connected the alcohol story, which reported that 1 in 4 students had driven drunk, and the coverage of the Framingham State community’s mourning of Colleen Kelly, a student who had been struck by a car and killed while crossing a busy road in December.
“What they took from the front page was that there was some implied connection between drunk driving and Colleen’s death,” Buell said, adding he learned the motive only after the two students turned themselves in to campus police. “They didn’t completely understand how serious their actions were and how seriously they would be taken by us.”
Alcohol was not a factor in Kelly’s death — neither the driver or Kelly were drinking, Buell said.
Gatepost staff learned of the vandalism Feb. 24. An editorial entitled “Respect Your Newspaper” called it an “injustice … against The Gatepost staff and the Framingham State student body at large.”
“Regardless of the motivation behind the vandalism, however, the theft, destruction or alteration of the student newspaper is a violation of The Gatepost’s right to free speech,” the editorial read.
Buell said The Gatepost has been the target of other backlash over the issue, including a high volume of social media responses and a slew of letters to the editor that the paper published online in its March 8 edition.
One letter, written by Steven Grabowski and published on the paper’s website, described the folding back of the conjoined articles as a warranted and peaceful protest “which harmed no one, mind you.”
“Without so much as a border between the [alcohol] graphic and the article, and no intention to clearly separate the content of the two pieces, it seemed to strongly suggest the opinion of a correlation between the two,” Grabowski wrote.
Another letter, submitted by Patrick O’Connor, called on The Gatepost to issue an apology for its “crass treatment” of the situation and questioned whether the paper knows the definition of true censorship.
“By equating the death of Colleen Kelly with alcohol, you have not only besmirched the memory of the recently deceased, but also upset those closest to her enormously,” O’Connor wrote. “You are acting like petulant children with no regard for the feelings of others.”
Bruell said he’s seen two teams develop, pitting the friends and family of Kelly against the newspaper.
“It was heartbreaking for a lot of us,” he said. “Many of us knew her personally. Many of us had classes together. At a small school everybody kind of knows everybody.”
He reiterated in a March 8 editorial that “the proximity of the two articles … was never intended to imply a connection between the two” while maintaining a stance against newspaper vandalism “under any circumstances.”
The two students are going through Framingham State’s judicial affairs office, Buell said.
Buell said after the actions taken against The Gatepost and its physical and emotional toll on him, the paper will be mindful of “how strongly a community can respond to a front page.”
“We’d be crazy not to learn from a situation like this,” he said.
By Daniel Moore, SPLC staff writer. Contact Moore by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.