Student Paper Briefly Shut Down Over Plagiarism Charge

Late last month, Western Carolina University administrators suddenly suspended operations of its student newspaper for five days amid accusations the paper plagiarized content from the local professional press.

As The Daily Tar Heel reports, the editor of the nearby Sylva Herald first alerted Western Carolinian editors and WCU officials about a potential copycatting problem in August after seeing exact replicas of a few Herald stories appearing in the student paper.  According to the Western Carolinian editor in chief, the staff looked into the charges, but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The school then mounted its own investigation.  And two Fridays ago, out of the blue, WCU admins. demanded the paper temporarily cease and desist.  The editor in chief’s reaction, via an SPLC news report: “It was on Friday that out of nowhere, they decided to suspend operations at the newspaper and didn’t give us a written explanation or reason as to why with the exception of saying they wanted to suspend operations until the plagiarism situation was resolved.”

The following Wednesday, just as suddenly, the university allowed the paper to restart its newsgathering and production.  No details about the specific reasons or timing behind the stop or start are available due to related WCU privacy policies.

The actual impact of the suspension on the bimonthly paper has been minimal.  The two greater concerns: 1) The school’s lack of communication about the need for such an extraordinary, some might say censorious, decision to shut down an entire paper- even if some wrongdoing by former or current staffers had occurred.

And 2) The shutdown itself.  SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte: “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.  There’s normally a system in place to remove the person who engages in misconduct.

Or as an editorial in The Technician at North Carolina State University declared, “Shutting the Western Carolinian down for any period of time, whether it was a few hours or a few days, is unacceptable. Shutting down the paper was in direct violation of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, whether or not they were accused of plagiarism. These accusations do not take away the Western Carolinian‘s staff’s rights to free press.”

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