Grambling State Fires Student Newspaper’s Online Editor, Suspends Opinions Editor Over Football Mess

UPDATE: Monroe’s suspension has been overturned and Lankster’s termination has been changed to a suspension — yet he plans to resign anyway.

The online editor of the Grambling State University student newspaper has been fired and the opinions section editor has been suspended due to their coverage and support of the recent football program protest.

As sports fans are aware, Grambling football players have made headlines over the past few days for publicly criticizing the poor conditions of their practice facilities and rough-at-times away game road-trips. To show their collective dismay, they refused to play over the weekend against conference rival Jackson State University, forcing the team to forfeit.

As part of his reporting on the protest and the problems from which it sprung, The Gramblinite online editor David Lankster Sr. tweeted out photos of the team’s “sh*tty work conditions” through the paper’s Twitter account. Some of the tweets start with the all-caps grabber “LOOK,” with subsequent images revealing mold, mildew, a collapsed roof, missing exercise mats and exposed pipes.

According to allDigitocracy, the university has fired Lankster for these snapshots. Lankster accuses Will Sutton, Grambling’s director of public relations and communications and a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, of censorship. In his words, “I was behind it [the photos]. I was the only one on the ground hearing from the students and players. Sutton was trying to mute our voice because we were tweeting the real news, the truth about what was going on.”

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In a public statement, Sutton alleges he was not involved in Lankster’s removal. He says his problem with the paper centers on its recent anonymous sourcing. As he explains, “It would be silly to compare this situation … to Watergate because even those Washington Post reporters knew that they couldn’t simply go with what ‘Deep Throat’ told them; they worked to confirm everything before publishing — and not before.”

Meanwhile, Voices editor Kimberly Monroe was hit with a two-week suspension for organizing and participating in a “State of Emergency” student rally calling out the school’s perceived flaws including “crumbling buildings and the student-teacher ratio.” In an email to Monroe announcing the suspension, Gramblinite adviser Wanda Peters writes:

“As a member of The Gramblinite, you should not have become involved in a public rally, as you did yesterday. I know Mass Communication was not your undergraduate major so you missed the classroom instruction regarding conflict of interest. But the Code of Ethics that you must read and sign each semester as part of your Gramblinite application outlines certain behaviors that are expected of you. Item No. 4 of the Code reads: ‘We report the news without regard for our own interests, mindful of the need to disclose potential conflicts. We avoid involvement in campus events, politics, demonstrations and social causes that would cause a conflict of interest, or the appearance of such conflict.'”

Yet, Monroe tells allDigitocracy she did not sign an ethics code at the start of the semester and also had a run-in with Peters after refusing to remove “parts of a column submitted by Grambling’s student government president, including the president’s email address that he asked students to use to report problems on campus.” She did confirm her work staging the rally, but said it grew into a media spectacle beyond her control or simple goals once football players decided to participate.

Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte: “It’s disturbing if non-student Grambling employees are firing or suspending student journalists for what they decide to publish, particularly on social media. It’s fine for Mr. Sutton or Ms. Peters to express a strong opinion about the adequacy of the journalists’ sourcing — that’s totally fair — but the First Amendment means their input has to stop with just advice.”

Comments
8 Responses to “Grambling State Fires Student Newspaper’s Online Editor, Suspends Opinions Editor Over Football Mess”
  1. c.f.k. says:

    The first case of the reporter who was fired is pretty ridiculous, though, sadly, not surprising if the paper is not independent. But hopefully that gets resolved and the university apologizes to that student for being in the wrong and reinstates his position. He was merely trying to do his job and didn’t break any rules (seems he got to the locations where he took photos legally/wasn’t trespassing).

    The second? Justified. Why is an opinions editor organizing a campus rally? That essentially means the rally is the opinion of the newspaper, if she is the one who pens the editorials or is part of the editorial board. There is a supreme conflict of interest there. Did the paper cover the rally and interview her as the organizer? Just seems to create a mess all around.

    • Chris Anthony says:

      Agreed. Instead of simply having the students sign a code of ethics at the beginning of each semester, perhaps the newspaper should host a mandatory workshop on ethical issues in journalism. It appears more intensive training is needed, particularly for the students who don’t major in communication/journalism.

  2. Mark Plenke says:

    Interesting that the comments here focus on the newspaper opinions editor who decided to take her opinions to the street instead of on the disturbing and likely unconstitutional actions of the Grambling State administration.

    I think this would be a good time to debate whether newspaper editors, especially opinion editors, are guilty of a conflict of interest if they lead their communities in ways other than writing opinions. A newspaper editor in Minnesota started the state’s D-Day, Don’t Smoke Day, and advocated for it statewide. Was that unethical? If the Gramblinite took a an editorial stand on this issue, where is the conflict of interest in organizing a rally that supports that opinion if she doesn’t direct news coverage for the paper?

    Here’s a link to a story the Chicago Tribune published about the Minnesota editor, Lynn Smith: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-11-21/news/9811210264_1_smoking-non-smoker-pledged

  3. Your update needs correcting.

    The online editor’s disciplinary action was also overturned according to The Gramblinite’s adviser, Wanda Peters. Both editors are free to return, Peters said.

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  1. […] In other news, Grambling State fired the online editor of the school newspaper and suspended the opinions section editor. […]

  2. […] College Media Matters reports the actions were taken against the two journalists in an apparent response to their coverage of the poor conditions within the school’s football facilities. […]

  3. […] this until Lawrence mentioned it, but: the suspension of the Grambling college paper’s opinion editor has been overturned. And the termination of the online editor has been changed to a suspension, but he’s […]

  4. […] As I previously posted, Grambling State football players earned mega-media attention recently for publicly criticizing the poor conditions of their practice facilities and rough-at-times away game road-trips. To show their collective dismay, they refused to play last weekend against conference rival Jackson State University, forcing the team to forfeit. […]