MISSOURI — While administrators at a private university near St. Louis say they killed a student magazine to ensure a digital focus, editors say it is retaliation for recent controversial articles.
The staff of The Legacy magazine at Lindenwood University met with Joseph Alsobrook, the dean of the School of Arts, Media and Communications on June 29, 2018. At that meeting, they were told the magazine would no longer be printed. Alsobrook used a 2016 review of the journalism department done by an associate professor of journalism at Drake University in Iowa to back his position that the focus should be on digital.
Part of the review discussed how to “foster an attitude of ‘digital first.'” Madeline Raineri, the current news editor of The Legacy, said students were told at the meeting that “print isn’t important and that the experience behind printing could be replicated exactly just with publishing something online.” The students were also told that the cost of printing a magazine was a concern.
The 32-page magazine, published two to three times a semester, costs approximately $2,000 and prints 2,000 copies, according to an article published on the magazine’s website. The magazine was paid for by the university, which has just under 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students enrolled. Raineri said the staff doesn’t know how their budget will be affected by the magazine being pulled.
Alsobrook did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Alsobrook told St. Louis Public Radio killing the print edition was not censorship. “It just doesn’t need to be printed,” he said. “Americans, particularly young Americans, are consuming more and more and more of their news online, so you know, it’s a question of value, does it need to be printed and we decided no.”
Student publications have existed at Lindenwood University since 1898. From 2007 to spring 2017, The Legacy was a weekly newspaper. Then in fall 2017, The Legacy was turned into a magazine. The switch was made to “focus on publishing more content online” and have a place to publish more in-depth stories, according to an article published last year.
“This was a big shock to me,” sports editor Matt Hampton said of the decision to end the print publication.
Hampton, who was selected as sports editor in the same meeting where they found out the magazine was canceled, said the justification based on the 2016 review “did not make a lot of sense.”
“In 2016, The Legacy was still a newspaper and not a magazine, and also our online presence was not nearly as large as it is at this point in time,” Hampton said.
By publishing more stories online and growing their social media presence, Hampton said The Legacy has created a “a significant digital presence.”
Jill Van Wyke, the author of the 2016 report, told The Legacy on July 4, 2018, she felt her review had been misinterpreted. Raineri said that editors were given “a half a page” of Van Wyke’s report at the meeting. The original report was 26 pages long.
“I certainly did encourage continued movement toward digital, online, social, mobile news gathering and storytelling,” Van Wyke told The Legacy. “And [the excerpt provided to the Legacy] is accurate…but I did not intend to indicate that those platforms should replace print.”
Van Wyke also told The Legacy that she had not been in contact with anyone at Lindenwood University since June of 2016, saying, “if my report was to be used as the reason for canceling the print publication, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to weigh in more recently.”
“I think it’s a weak cover-up and a blatant attempt at censorship, to be very honest,” Raineri said.
Hampton said that since The Legacy became a magazine, “there had been maybe one or two stories that were directly critical of the university, but more than that, what we suspect the decision was based on were stories that were just generally controversial.”
Hampton and Raineri cited a few stories that caused controversy on campus, including an article about the 20th anniversary of a murder that occurred on campus, stories about mental health and a story from fall 2017 about lower pay and lack of benefits for adjunct professors.
Raineri said they didn’t receive any feedback about these stories from administrators, but had positive feedback from students and professors on campus. Hampton said administrators had “insinuated that some of the cover stories may be bad PR for the school, but didn’t seem too hostile and praised the magazine overall.”
Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center, said situations like this are becoming “fairly typical.”
“It’s just another one of those situations where…the voice of a community is being taken away and it sounds like a big part of it is being taken away is because the paper is actually publishing news,” Hiestand said.
Hiestand said because Lindenwood University is a private university, it is legally able to censor student publications due to content.
This is not the first time student publications have been stopped on Lindenwood University’s campus. From 2000 to 2007, former president Dennis Spellmann shut down the student newspaper for publishing articles critical of him, Raineri said.
Raineri said the staff is currently researching next steps, including potential other options for funding, as well as “launching an investigation into the university and whether or not it was censorship” through the College Media Association First Amendment Advocacy Committee. Raineri and Hampton both said the staff has been using social media and the alumni network to raise awareness of what happened.
“I think [the administration] really underestimated the importance of print journalism,” Raineri said.
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