Stony Brook Student Magazine’s Funny Football Tweets Lead to Censorship Threat

Late last month, athletics officials at Stony Brook University threatened the press credentials of a student magazine in response to a staffer’s comedic live-tweeting of a football game.  It is one of the stranger student press censorship cases I have come across.

The needed backdrop: Along with a terrific journalism school, there are three major student media outlets at SBU.  The Statesman is the fantastic longtime student newspaper.  The Stony Brook Independent is a respected independent online news source.  And The Stony Brook Press is an established biweekly alternative known for its mix of serious and satiric content.

The 30-second gist: The Press recently covered SBU football’s one-point Homecoming win over Colgate University.  A pair of photographers captured shots from the sidelines.  A reporter worked on a serious recap from the press box.  And a separate staffer sat in the stands, live-tweeting the action on the field in humorous fashion.  As the Press explained, “His objective was to live-tweet the game, while making references to any sport but football. . . . If anything, we were poking fun at our lack of knowledge when it comes to sports.”  SBU officials were apparently not amused, threatening to revoke the magazine’s press credentials for the rest of the year unless it started tweeting correctly.

The tweets at the center of the odd uproar are quite funny, and seemingly harmless.  Here is a sampling featured in a Storify created by the Student Press Law Center, along with a rebuke tweet from SBU Athletics:

According to Press managing editor Tom Johnson, as paraphrased by the SPLC, following the warning tweet shown above, “the athletics department sent the magazine a direct message: ‘I strongly suggest you come up to the press box to discuss your inability to tweet the correct way.’  Later in the game, an athletic official approached one of the magazine’s photographers, telling her that if the tweeting didn’t stop they would take away the paper’s credentials.”

In an editorial about the incident– headlined “Don’t Censor Me, Bro!”— the Press clarified that the tweeting staffer had not attended the game using an SBU-issued press pass.  As the editors noted:

“In many ways, the Athletics Department was overstepping their boundaries by doing this. First of all, under the First Amendment, we have the right to publish anything we want, even tweets. . . . If the person live-tweeting had been in the press box, preventing another reporter from factually covering the game, their request to stop would have been justified. If any directly offensive references had been made in the tweets, their distress would have been understood. But the fact is, the person live-tweeting the game was simply a student sitting in the stands, which is in no way violating any rules. . . . Did the Athletics Department have a right to threaten revocation of our press credentials? Simply put, yes. Technically, if we don’t cover a sporting event in a manner that the Athletics Department deems appropriate, it has the right to take back the press credentials they issued to us.  But that doesn’t make it right.”

My Take: I agree with the editorial.  Threatening the student press in any way for coverage you simply don’t like or don’t understand is never right.  It’s also almost always an overreaction.  Seriously, SBU Athletics, just enjoy the win.  Respect the press, and the Press.  And get a sense of humor.  I mean, c’mon, if nothing else, that sand trap/power play tweet has to make you giggle, at least a little, right? :)

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