The Importance of an Independent Student Press


In a rancorous dispute that has pitted student journalists against student government, the editors of Montclair State University’s weekly newspaper were forced to stop publishing last week after the student body president froze the paper’s financing.

The editors of the paper, The Montclarion, claim that the president, Ron Chicken, improperly used his authority, cutting off the newspaper’s funds to silence criticism of the student government.

The student body president, however, told the Montclarion’s editors that they had violated the by-laws of the student government association by hiring their own lawyer.

On the bruising civic proving ground of higher education, there is nothing novel in the fight between the editors of a college paper and the student legislators they cover.

“Those battles are usually fought on the editorial page,” said Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va. “It is unusual to take this extreme step of pulling the plug on funding.”

The dispute started in November, when The Montclarion’s editor in chief, Karl de Vries, protested at a meeting of the student government that it kept some of its sessions closed to the press. Before that meeting, a lawyer retained by The Montclarion had advised the student journalists about their rights under a state open meetings law.

After Mr. de Vries spoke, Mr. Chicken demanded copies of correspondence between the lawyer and the newspaper, Mr. deVries said in an interview, adding that he refused to provide it. The next day, Mr. Chicken sent a letter to the lawyer — whose fees were paid with student funds — firing him.

Via Romenesko.


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