Q: I’m the editor of my public community college newspaper. We are called a club or organization, not a free press. We have been censored by being told what topics we can write about. Our adviser frequently kills stories because he says the quality is poor, even though I and my section editors have cleared it for publication. When we tried to have conversations with our adviser about what’s being done wrong, we were shut down. We need your help.
A: At a public college or university (community colleges are treated exactly the same as their 4-year counterparts) the law is clear: Student editors are responsible for determining the content of their media organization as long as the content is lawful (e.g., not libelous or obscene, etc.) and doesn’t seriously disrupt school (a pretty high bar.) School officials — including a faculty adviser — must keep their hands off and do nothing (including messing around with funding, threatening your jobs and engaging in other forms of indirect censorship) that is an attempt to censor, control, punish for or otherwise manipulate such content. The law is on your side; don’t take no for an answer.
That said, as a journalist, you should also make reasonable attempts to engage your adviser (and fellow editors/journalists) when they raise questions or express concerns about your stories. It is a crucial part of the story development and editing process. Sometimes you have to check yourself and realize that you can and must do better. We can always learn new approaches and perspectives from others, no matter what their position or station in life.
You can read more here.
Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.”
Have a question you’d like answered? Tell us in the form below. (Not all questions will be chosen for Ask SPLC.)
If you need immediate help, contact our Legal Hotline.