Newsroom Lockout: An “Impeding Upon Civil Rights”?

The drama that played out this past month at Community College of Rhode Island seemed simple really.  It involved a campus newspaper, a locked newsroom door, and an apparently censorious student government president who held the key.  But in reality, it appears much more complicated.

In early August, editors of The Unfiltered Lens, the roughly three-year-old student paper at CCRI, suddenly lost access to their main campus newsroom due to a mass cleaning-lock change-planned reallocation of student office space initiated by the CCRI student government.  In part, the student government president said it was a security measure: “Over the last two years, so many keys have gone out and never been returned. We’re taking safety precautions.”

Lens staffers have declared the lock-out akin to censorship and an “impeding upon civil rights.” In reply, CCRI says bollocks.  Among the disputed facts:

  • The Lens does have another dedicated space on campus.  Yet, newspaper eds. say it was declared a fire hazard by the university IT department.  On the flip side, a university administrator says the fire chief approved it as perfectly safe.

  • Editors also say the student government president overseeing the lockdown offered the paper access in exchange for positive coverage– a weighty charge.  In return, the president and the school deny any sort of quid pro quo, stating that Lens staff have offered no proof of such wrongdoing.

  • According to a Student Press Law Center report, the paper’s chief executor David Gannon has now received a single key to once again enter the desired newsroom space.  Lens staff consider this only a slight improvement, rightfully pointing out the need for more than one key for an operation requiring numerous individuals working at numerous times.  The school says it will only be a tiny bit longer until everything is back to normal.

  • And in the strangest twist, the student government prez is claiming that the paper’s possible shift from its current prime newsroom space is because it has not been “one of the most active groups on campus.” While not replying directly to this charge, Lens editors’ actions speak loudest here. After all, if they were not attempting to work over the summer, they would not have come across the locked newsroom door.

Gannon did not respond to an e-mail requesting additional information.  My best guess: To be continued…

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