Not one step backward

Many years ago, a student reporter of mine got a phone call
from a woman in a wheelchair. Two days earlier, someone she knew had been hit
by a car while trying to cross a street in his wheelchair. The woman explained
that she had almost been hit many times because the sidewalks around the city
were so bad that she had to drive her chair in the street.

After the student and I talked a bit, I suggested that the
student follow the woman around and document her sidewalk issues for a story.
The student took to the story quite well. She followed the woman (and almost
got hit by a car twice), talked to city officials (who said things were “just
fine”) and some folks who worked with handicapped people around the city (who
staunchly disagreed that the sidewalks were OK).

When the story ran, the city manager (a major asshole)
called her and berated her. She was biased, she didn’t know what she was
talking about, she was never going to be a journalist etc. The kid freaked out.

“Maybe we should run a correction or a retraction?” she
asked, panic etched all over her face.

“Not a chance,” I told her. “It’s not wrong. You just hit a
nerve. Keep going.”

Shortly after her story ran, some wheelchair user put out a
notice for a “wheelie rally” where chair users discussed the issues brought up
in the story. They petitioned the city and kept holding these rallies. Each
time, the city manager (who basically ran the city) kept insisting this was
much ado about nothing. The student kept writing stories about each and every
event, taking abuse from the city manager for it every time.

Finally, about three months later, the city manager added an
item to a city council meeting, where he noted that it was about time we fixed
up the city sidewalks. Money was added to the repair fund and construction
began shortly thereafter. Every time I saw someone working on a sidewalk for
years after that, I thought of that kid.

I also thought of her this morning when I read that the
folks at Florida Atlantic University had threatened to bring the editor of the
student paper up on student conduct code violations. The crime?Talking to her
former adviser ON HER OWN TIME.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Michael Koretzky and how his
removal was not only a big loss, but also more than a bit contrived.
It seems
that the latter is truer than I imagined, as the FAU folks have gotten to the
point of violating the First Amendment to prove a point.

The director of student media told the editor of the paper that
the staff couldn’t use Koretzky as a volunteer adviser, list him in any form in
the student paper’s masthead or work with him, even on their own time on or off
campus. She cited a conversation with aUNIVERSITY LAWYER as the impetus for
her decision

This is clearly a violation of the students’ rights to free
association and telling them what not to print clearly violates their free
press rights. This approach also seems to reverse a position they took earlier,
in which they allowed Koretzky to come to campus to help out as a “guest
speaker” as long as the students filed all the proper paperwork. The students
filed the forms, allowing Koretzky on campus through the end of the month and
now the “adults” are changing the rules again.

The thing that made me think about my former student and her
sidewalk story was this: We’ve trained a generation of kids who know nothing
but how to back down. Adults yell, kids cower and that’s how we like it. When
someone “lesser” in the eyes of authority has the gall to stand up and call
people out for their bullshit, a lot of adults get offended.

The adults at FAU keep reaching for bigger and bigger
hammers, trying to scare the kids enough to back off this story.Koretzky has
been documenting this idiocy here
while the students have beenkeeping their
own blog here
. Both blogs are worth a read, because while the FAU folks are
running around like roaches when the lights come on, the kids are simply
reporting the story, fact by fact. They refuse to get into a pissing match with
the administrators, but they’re not backing off either.

The founders delineated a very small handful of items within
the First Amendment that receive guaranteed protection, with freedom of the
press being one of them. The reason is that with an unfettered press, we can
show truth to power and keep our society transparent. While it seems like a
cataract has grown over the lens of truth over time, on some issues, a beam of
light breaks through. When it does, those upon whom it strikes tend to squint
uncomfortably, like a blinded mole. We’re not supposed to apologize for that.

While I rarely make a plea on this blog, here’s one I think
is worth making: Please follow the situation there and offer support to these
students if you agree with them. They’re undermanned and outgunned and yet they
stand on a wall and say, “Not. This. Time.”

Help make sure they continue to take not one step backward.

5 thoughts on “Not one step backward

  1. The paper could try a variation of a gimmick used by the Indian press in the 1800s. The British passed a law saying any Indian-run newspaper had to get approval for each and every article written; on the other hand, papers owned by British journalists had no such requirement – despite the fact that some were openly advocating overthrowing the Crown. When told that they couldn’t print a story (often done maliciously just to prove the Brits could), the Indians would give a headline, print one line saying the British had censored the story, and left a blank column. Interest in what was so freaking beyond the pale that it was censored drove interest in whatever the story was about more effectively than an actual article – especially for the randomly censored stories about pigeon racing or some-such. Maybe the kids could make a headline “University Up to It Again”, then under that “The University has said we can not talk about this”, then blank space. Then later “University Denies It”, same deal; “University Strangely Silent; Says We Should Be Too”, etc. You would have every frat, sorority, and chess club in the university staging commando raids on the university offices just because they wanted to what the hell was so important; the FAU firewall would limp shamefully to a corner and sit there whimpering.

  2. Like Phalamir’s idea !
    Looking at the FAU web page, they are a public university. Which means that they have much less latitude to get away with things like this.
    Like the kids, no make that REPORTERS, reported on a week ago who the cops wanted to confiscate their pictures without warrant, it seems like these folk are clearly in the right. It will be painful, but has the potential to be a lesson that will benefit them the rest of their lives.

  3. This is very nice posting your article is very help full for me the Indians would give a headline, print one line saying the British had censored the story, and left a blank column. Interest in what was so freaking beyond the pale that it was censored drove interest in whatever the story was about more effectively than an actual article – especially for the randomly censored stories about pigeon racing or some-such.

  4. Done. At the kids’ blog, anyway, will e-mail the advisor later. OWL MANAGEMENT is like the best name for anything, ever. For that alone they win.
    The administration’s not exactly covering itself in glory here. WTF is it with J-schools right now? The UW hosts a conference on the future of journalism and the link to it on their web site is broken for months despite repeated attempts to get them to fix it, they host a blogging panel with no bloggers. The FAU people put out an ad for a Department of Student Media Department advisor, and lose their own PR war. And these are the people teaching our kids to communicate? Fuckin’ hell.

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