Arizona newspaper's re-launch stalled indefinitely following prior review disagreement

ARIZONA — Students at Yavapai Community College working toward a re-launch of the student newspaper say prior review issues have “shut down” their progress.

The Rough Writer planned to relaunch Monday after a two-year-long hiatus, staff said. But last week, work on the issue stalled after a disagreement between editors and the paper’s assistant adviser.

At the beginning of the semester, Dan Gleason, a mass media adjunct professor, asked for volunteers from his media studies class to help resurrect The Rough Writer. Nine students in the class volunteered to write and edit stories, and Gleason, who intended it as a “class project,” said he named some of the students to serve as editors.

Josh Nothnagle, who was named assignment editor, and Sharon Wyatt, named editor, said the volunteers were all believed that this was an extracurricular project not associated with the class. The group didn’t work during class hours and wasn’t assigned class work related to the paper, Nothnagle said.

“We weren’t really under that impression at the time,” he said. “It’s not something we worked on during class.”

Nothnagle said Gleason notified him in an email last Thursday that all stories published on the paper’s website would have to be approved by the paper’s faculty adviser, Karly Way. Nothnagle wrote back to Gleason and Way protesting the decision, threatening to resign if the publication had to submit to prior review.

Gleason sent him four emails back standing by his decision. Way also responded in an email: “It does not appear that there will be ongoing support for an online Rough Writer at this time.”

Way, whom the students said they’ve never met because she teaches on another campus, declined comment. Both Way and Jill Fitzgerald, dean of visual performing and liberal arts, deferred questions to Mike Lang, the school’s marketing and communications manager.

Lang said Nothnagle “misunderstood how far along we were with the process” of re-launching the paper. The goal behind of Gleason’s class project was to showcase the students’ work online, Lang said.

“My understanding is they haven’t gotten that far,” Lang said. “My understanding is, it’s primarily this one student who was very ambitious about this and probably got a little ahead of himself.”

Gleason said the students knew all along they would have to get published material checked by the faculty adviser because they were contributing to a “teaser that could help re-launch The Rough Writer” rather than the independent paper itself. Although students were using the paper’s official Facebook and Twitter to advertise the April re-launch, Gleason said he gave “no approval for that and it shouldn’t be up there.”

Wyatt said that the entire process has been “a huge miscommunication.” She said after that editor positions were assigned, students started making plans for the launch.

“We found something that we were passionate about and went for it,” she said. “We didn’t know what their ideas were. If I had known this is what the project was … I wouldn’t have done it because it’s not interesting to me at all whatsoever.”

She claims miscommunication with the administration extends much deeper than The Rough Writer because school officials “automatically reject change,” such as suggestions Nothnagle had to improve the website’s appearance.

“The school does this kind of stuff where they’re vague about their policies,” she said. “It’s happened in a lot of different areas and it’s frustrating for students.”

The path to publication was rocky from the start. Nothnagle said besides giving access to manage the website, instructors have given “almost no support” to the students from the start. The staff — with no funding, no budget and no access to the paper’s old office — has been preparing for the launch out of a study room.

“The only equipment we have is a roll of butcher paper we found in that room and a marker we borrowed from a staffer,” Nothnagle said.

It’s not clear whether the paper will resume publishing. Gleason said the paper’s advisers plan to post students’ stories soon.

Gleason also announced in recent weeks he’ll be leaving the college in the summer. Though Lang said the school is “not giving up” on the fall launch, the school doesn’t currently have an adviser to supervise operations and teach the news writing class that produces some stories for the paper.

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, said regardless of whether the students were writing for a “class project” or an independent newspaper, they have a right to publish their stories without interference from advisers.

“Censorship is any action motivated by a desire to control, suppress or punish content,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where the content is. They may think it’s legal censorship, but it’s still censorship. There is no hybrid university where running the classroom means you run the world.”

Goldstein added that any publication of student work without written consent could be a violation of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“I would suggest (the school) not publish if it enjoys federal funding,” he

said. “The school is legally entitled to their server, but everything else is the students’ to go take and do what they want.”

Nothnagle said Tuesday he has resigned his duties and won’t be publishing any stories on the site. Wyatt said she will not have her story published at all.

Both said they’re pondering options of producing content independent of the college. But in doing that, Wyatt said, the school is failing its responsibility to educate students.

“I want to be a journalism major. The fact that they’re taking it away because they don’t want to spend the time and resources — that’s their problem,” Wyatt said. “If they’re not helping me for my future, what are they doing?”

By Daniel Moore, SPLC staff writer. Contact Moore by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.