Full frontal nudity in a journalism faculty discussion

That’s what you might call a misleading sensational headline, but you are still reading.

The topic is a serious one: A North Carolina university’s dismissal of its student newspaper adviser over a story that might otherwise just sound like 1970s  nostalgia. A couple of months ago, the paper published photos of a streaker at a fall football game. Autumn leaves or not, the editors didn’t do any “digital fig-leafing” of the images.

Of course the university can’t comment on the details of a personnel matter, but the Student Press Law Center quickly came to the defense of adviser Paul Isom. (His position, incidentally, reported to a marketing and publicity official at the university, not to the journalism faculty.)

“They’re clearly punishing the adviser for something he not only didn’t control, but legally couldn’t control,” Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said.

The SPLC alert prompted a robust discussion by journalism faculty on an Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication mailing list — more than 30 messages in 24 hours, during a semester break. Professors addressed topics including the independence of student newspapers, community standards regarding nudity, the sensitivities of college administrators and public relations departments, and the responsibilities of student media advisers — as well as a need for student media advisers to get both their rights and responsibilities spelled out in advance.

You do not need to be a member to read the discussion here:

http://aejmc.net/pipermail/news-list_aejmc.net/2012-January/thread.html

I hope sharing the story with my intro class this semester will help me do a better job of addressing issues of sensitivity, diversity, community standards, taste and “responsibility.” Those issues aren’t just for editors-in-chief anymore, not when anyone can register a WordPress.com account like this one and start “publishing” to the world.

Along with my advice about “acting responsibly,” deciding whatever that means, I’ll also point out that student editors have a First Amendment right to ignore their advisers — but that they should be wise enough to listen, discuss and make thoughtful, informed decisions. For example, I wonder how many student publications have drafted their own editorial guidelines about possibly offensive images or language? I wonder if those guidelines were written when the publication’s audience was just on-campus, not a Web-published edition available to anyone in the world?

There might even be a nice research paper topic there for a grad student or two.

For inspiration, I’d point students to the ethics-related pages at: SPJ, SPLC and its FACT team, RTDNA and NPPA, and the College Media Association, including its page for advisers.

For the recent specific case, here are additional news reports mentioned in the journalism faculty discussion:

Nostalgic footnote: The first time I was on a television “Face the State” panel, it  was as education editor of The Hartford Courant, and the newsmaker was the relatively new president of the University of Connecticut, Glenn W. Ferguson. Between questions about political influence and university budget cuts, I threw in one about the Yale Daily News acknowledging that UConn led Yale in streaking that year. I thought his response — something about looking forward to Yale’s recognizing UConn’s excellence in other areas — was his best remark that day.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

Posted in AEJMC, Blogging, Free Speech, Journalism, Newspapers, StudentPress, students, WordPress

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