I observed two separate incidents involving a journalist’s rights being taken away this week. It got me thinking about the ridiculous fact that a journalist’s fight to be heard and not be censored never ends.
The first case doesn’t necessarily involve censorship, but it involved a specific right being taken away that shouldn’t have. The second is a bit more alarming because it involves a professional publication and has a major impact on the future of the industry.
Anyway, I’m going to copy and paste the column I wrote for DENnews.com here, but if you want to see the story on the original website (yes, website. Not Web site. Thanks, AP Style) can can check it out here.
Title: Media’s fight never ends
By Collin Whitchurch/Managing Editor
Originally published in The Daily Eastern News on 4/23/10
The editor-in-chief of The Breeze, James Madison University’s student newspaper, was recently brought under fire when police officers stormed her office demanding she hand over photographs of a riot on JMU’s campus.
New York Newsday, a highly read professional daily newspaper in New York City, is being shot with criticism for censoring columnists on its sports page.
Just another day on the job.
Correct ethical practices and the law of the industry have been pounded into my skull time and time again during my two years at Eastern, allowing me to take notice when controversies such as the two aforementioned stories occur.
We are taught to critically think, to know when we are wronged and to fight against those who try to suppress us. So it’s amazing to hear that injustices such as these still occur.
In the JMU story, a student journalist, just days on the job, was caught in a whirlwind when her paper took photographs of a riot that occurred on campus.
According to an article by Rex Bowman in the Wednesday edition of the Roanoke Times, the editor, Katie Thisdell, was forced to hand over photographs to authorities when they threatened to seize everything inside her newsroom, delaying publication of, if not crippling, her twice-weekly publication.
The Newsday controversy is even more stunning in that it takes place in a professional environment.
James and Charles Dolan, Cablevision executives who also own New York’s Knicks and Rangers, recently purchased the paper.
Columnists for Newsday such as Wallace Matthews were having phrases edited out of their columns because of a new policy at the paper that called for a “softer tone” and “no name-calling,” according to an article by John Koblin in Tuesday’s New York Observer.
The unfair situations presented these journalists are not incredibly dissimilar to those many people may see in the workplace every day. It’s not uncommon to hear an employee with a qualm about being wronged by a boss or hurt by the conglomerate that presides over them.
The only difference in journalism is that it affects the world around them. In the James Madison case, the police broke the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, prohibiting police from taking material from a news gathering operation. The Rockingham prosecutor’s office bullied a young girl to aid its investigation.
What does this mean for the public? It means little, perhaps, in this individual case. But it opens up the possibility for more discussion on rights when it comes to the media and law enforcement.
In Newday’s case, it’s all about censorship. Instances such as this would have never if the owners were well-versed in journalism. But when public figures, who are often the most frequently criticized by a publication, become its owners, they will do everything in their power to avoid said criticism. Even break ethical practices they were likely never formally schooled in.
It deprives the public of the truth. Sure, for now it’s just stopping criticism of the head coach of the New York Jets or the first baseman of the New York Mets.
But where does it end? It has to end somewhere. The public deserves the undisturbed truth, and it’s our job to bring it to them no matter the consequences along the way.