Student Newspaper at Oregon State Claims Limited Campus Distribution is Censorship

The Liberty, an independent student newspaper at Oregon State University, has plastered the word CENSORSHIP on the front page of its current issue.  The reason behind the latest use of the big C within collegemediatopia is interesting: Liberty editors are not complaining that their content is being curtailed, but their right to distribute it.

Specifically, the paper is claiming aggrieved status because it is forced to distribute copies in only a few bins at certain spots on campus- a bum rap compared to the more comprehensive distribution rights bestowed upon The Daily Barometer.  According to a local TV news report, OSU admins say the Barometer is the only recognized student publication at the university and “therefore is the only newspaper allowed special distribution.  The Liberty says that’s censorship.”

The Liberty Fight

A top Liberty editor: “Basically, we just want to have a couple of square feet on campus where we can place our bins.”  In our new media age, what an old school request!  It’s like demanding an analog channel after televisions switch to digital.  But more seriously, the request does point to some intriguing questions and larger truths:

– Print’s influence remains strong!  Students are still reading it, and apparently are still passionate about creating it.

– The university is saying the Barometer‘s history and alignment with the student union gives it a special status not afforded other student pubs.  Judges’ ruling? Incomplete.  Admins of the 21st-century need to recognize that media are fragmenting, it is easier for others to break into the publishing game, and holding onto relationships based on history or the way things have always been done is out of touch at best and uggh-errific exclusionary at worst. 

– The irony here is so wonderfully thick!  Think about it: A university having to fight a mini-PR battle for SUPPORTING its student newspaper.  It is tough to understand why the university would deny this request.  It’s bad press, any way you slice it.  I mean, honestly, are school officials worried about opening the floodgates for a ton of other student print outlets to demand bin space?  In this day and (new media) age, it’s not a reasonable concern.  We’re talking about a few more news racks for one publication and a recognition by the school that a single dominant media voice is never a good thing.  Competition in this case can only further raise student dialogue and increase the diversity of opinions shared and considered.  The Liberty wants a few square feet of campus space to help engender this dialogue and diversity.  OSU admins, take note: University property is at its best when it is used as intellectual property.

– I’m also a bit concerned about all the talk of the Barometer being the “official student newspaper” of the university.  That makes it sound like the official soft drink of the school, not an editorially independent entity that ironically will probably denounce the school’s stance.

I’ll be curious to read the Barometer‘s take on the situation.  I hope the paper does the right thing and supports what I’m calling the “Liberty for All Student Media Bin Expansion Program.”

What do you think???

3 Responses to “Student Newspaper at Oregon State Claims Limited Campus Distribution is Censorship”
  1. Peter says:

    Seeing as how the Liberty came out around the time for the fight to open the QRC and many of it’s issues are just hateful drivel, I’m glad their publications are limited.

    They’re not a newspaper, it’s like a mad blogger and a few buddies who’ve put their trite homophobic rants and raves in a newspaper format and call it a paper where as the Barometer is more of a legitimate paper in the sense it has a world section, school events, editorials, sports section, etc.

  2. MT says:

    When you can’t compete, you complain. The Barometer is tied to the academic environment. That’s what makes it “official.” But it doesn’t speak for or exclusively about the university, so this cry of censorship is just an attempt to appear persecuted. The Liberty can distribute on campus, at a popular student gathering place, just like anyone else.

    If their ideas have traction and merit, they should work with the Barometer to get space in that publication. Otherwise, play by the rules everyone else has to.

  3. Dan Houseman says:

    I like MT’s response first: in the US, the “rules” are actually law, and set up by the Supreme Court regarding Student Media Publications. The Barometer’s only ties may be lose – with some affiliation to a Journalism class or Department, for that matter. This does not excuse a University to censor (by omission) the delivery of any other type of media. Nowhere in those decisions is their any indication that a Student Media outlet must be “official” nor sanctioned nor even owned by a university, but when it is, then the Universities have an obligation to stay out of all student produced media decisions. It sounds freakishly close to the battle (yawn) going on now with certain College Radio Stations (also, part of student media: using the U.S. Supreme Court definition) and Administrators believing they have a say in the genre of music that must be played and how often – in particular one station is being “told” to play only Commercial or Mainstream music in their basement Cafeteria, from 8am to Midnight, ONLY. That would be like Administrators demanding that School Newspapers are not allowed to write articles criticizing school Administration in any way, or telling them they can only have SPORTS coverage, and that’s it! The students are also being “told” to “…not worry about the internet…”. Yes, they are serious, but wrong that the students (or any staff, for that matter) would allow the internet stream (now going 5 years) to ever stop, let alone the social networking going on all over campuses – this matter, quite frankly, will be going to either arbitration or court if their administrators continue their losing verbal “battle” against student media. The student run station in question has about 12 DJs at last checking and, ironically, they actually do veer toward alternative rock and some rap and R&B/Soul (which, btw, can already be heard on way to many commercial stations in their area as it is). If we consider Canada for a moment: there, it is illegal for any college or high school to play or pander to any, ANY, commercially available music, as doing so will cause those schools to lose their broadcast license, allowances for closed-circuit, and internet streaming capabilities (through appropriate sanctions). This of course the oppsait extreme of the argument, as Canadian students in affect are also being forced (What about old classics?) And, just to be clear, Canada does not mean NPR or PRI nor CBC affiliation, they mean strictly college student run stations (The Territories also frown on “Public Media” take-overs sorely excused and allowed here in the states to rape college radio out of the mouths of college students, and staff) If some wise sage who may have Obama’s ear, were to bring NAFTA to bare on this issue, US high schools and colleges may just enjoy the same benefits for student media as does Canada.