‘No Paper, No Problem': An Interview with Former (& Future) Famuan Editor Karl Etters

Karl Etters is the most well-known and embattled student editor at the moment within collegemediatopia.  Until recently, Etters was the editor-in-chief of The Famuan at Florida A&M University– until the administration intervened.

As I previously posted, FAMU j-school dean Ann Kimbrough recently suspended all Famuan editorial operations– delaying publication of the first few issues and requiring all student staffers to reapply for their jobs and undergo basic journalism training. Apparently, if all goes well, the once and future staff will again be allowed to produce Famuan issues beginning at month’s end.

In the meantime, Etters and others missed covering their school.  So they started Ink and Fangs, an independent online news outlet aiming to fill their “insatiable need to produce news and inform and communicate with the public and FAMU.”

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In a phone chat last night, Etters laid out the rationale behind the sudden start-up of his “rogue website,” the latest on the staff’s reapplication and training process, and his current journalism outlook.  

A few of the more revealing and newsworthy snippets: He does hope to rejoin the school paper, while still maintaining Ink and Fangs in some form.  FAMU alumni and journalists at-large have been much more supportive than individuals at FAMU.  He still respects Kimbrough.  And he still loves journalism.

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Karl Etters

His ultimate hope: “I just want it to be the way it was, the way it should be [with the Famuan]. . . . I want to try to continue using Ink and Fangs in some way, but I do see us returning to our jobs [with the paper].”

His motivation for launching Ink and Fangs: “I obviously wanted to give the people on staff who were anxious to get started [this semester] a place to continue pursuing student journalism. . . . You know, it’s a ‘no paper, no problem’ kind of deal.  I think it was [Student Press Law Center executive director] Frank LoMonte who wrote that on my Twitter page.  While we have this time off, it’s hard for me to wake up in the morning and not go ‘Hey, what’s going on at FAMU today?’ or not go cover things or just be in the know about what’s going on at campus.  It’s giving me and other people an outlet.”

His response to the dean’s stance, namely that the Famuan’s struggles required a shutdown/reboot: “I don’t think we needed it at all.   With everyone home for the holidays, we were planning through email and phone conversations.  We were geared up to go.  I don’t think it was a very good move, although as I’ve said before the training is welcome.  Why pass up free training like that?”

Some details about the training so far: “We had one last Friday morning.  We had one [Monday].  We have one [today] and Friday too. . . . [The first session featured] two of our assistant professors.  Basically, they were talking about presenting fair and balanced stories, making sure the information you publish is accurate and the importance of confirming the information you get. . . . [The second session focused on] copy editing and fact checking, mainly a lot of copy editing. . . . It was more intense copy editing than you’d typically get in classes. . . .  There’s no indication that if we don’t come to any of these we won’t be on staff again.”

Funny training detail: “We do sign in.  It’s actually funny, on the sign-in sheet there’s a spot that says ‘Position’ and nobody has filled that spot out for any of the sessions.  I don’t know if that happened by accident, but that is what happened.”

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On FAMU response: “I think people do notice the newsstands are empty.  I’ve seen some stuff on social media from people outside the journalism school who have noticed and support us. . . . I have had some support [privately] from journalism professors but they’re probably in a position where they want to keep their jobs. Alumni have probably been our greatest support. . . . The fact is not a whole lot of [journalism students] have come forward to say ‘I want to help you guys.  I want to write for you guys’ within the school.  I hoped [Ink and Fangs] would have made more of a difference in our school.  I think people are supportive but to be supportive in this aspect you have to contribute, if you consider yourself a journalist.”

Related media coverage that rubbed him the wrong way: “One of the college newspapers [The Oklahoma Daily] that wrote about us posted the dean’s number [in an editorial, screenshot below].  I did not like that.  That was very unwelcome, you know, urging people to call and try to do who knows what.  It was a little childish.  It wasn’t handled in the most respectful way.  We are still respectful of our dean.  That was the one thing that kind of stuck out to me.”

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On maintaing respect for Kimbrough, even after her actions affecting the paper: “Well, obviously, first it’s on the humanity level.  But also, she’s an educator.  She was a journalist for a long time.  I feel like you should have some amount of respect for everyone.  You may not like somebody.  You may not like what’s going on.  But to be disrespectful is not an option in my opinion.”

Feelings about journalism in general at the moment: “My interest in it has increased with all this.  It shows you can make a difference, no matter how small you think it is.  You can make a difference.”

Related

My Take: FAMU Campus Paper Shutdown a Big FU to Students & a Downright ‘Noxious Form of Censorship’

Florida A&M Student Newspaper Delayed From Publishing & Staff Ordered to Reapply for Positions

With Their Paper Shut Down, Florida A&M Students Start ‘Rogue Website’: ‘Real Journalism Has No Pause Buttons’

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