By Cassidy Grom
Listen, I get it.
As professors at Christian universities who are involved with the student media, you walk a fine line.
You want to encourage your students to think critically and question why the world is the way that it is. You want them to be confident and courageous; able to interview everyone from the janitor to the university president. You want them to write clean, factual, copy that is unbiased and informs the college community about what is really going on.
You also want to keep your job.
You want to be well-liked among your peers and students. You want to avoid controversy that might mar your institution’s or Christianity’s image. Or your own.
You have several loyalties: to your faith, your school, your students, and the uncensored truth. And sometimes they conflict.
What happened at Liberty University is occurring in Christian college newsrooms around the country.
My research team proved it a few years ago. We surveyed student editors from 49 schools. Almost half of the respondents said their publication is censored by a non-student. Seventy percent said their faculty adviser could control which stories are printed. Nearly 20% of schools have policies stating the student publication exists wholly or partially for university public relations.
“There is constant pressure from administration and/or faculty not to pursue stories that are controversial or would make the university look bad,” wrote Abby Peterson, a former editor from Bethel University in Minnesota.
“Also, many people will try to convince us not to publish a story by saying that it is not Christ-like to do so.”
This desire to paint our faith and institutions in the best light is understandable but harmful. When you discourage students from pursuing difficult stories or prevent publication of those stories, you are ignoring the spirit of the First Amendment. You are teaching young reporters to be timid.
But it is often not you, the advisors, who are acting as censors; it’s the president or the board or the donors. You are caught in the middle.
In those moments, I encourage you to be courageous. Remind them that even our holy book doesn’t shy away from the truth.
Biblical writers admitted Joseph’s eleven brothers engaged in murder and human trafficking. They reveal the woman who gave haven to the fleeing Israelites was a whore. They report that a disciple lopped off a guy’s ear in a fit of rage.
If our holy book tells the whole truth about the people of God, including less-than-positive details, we should, too.
As college media advisors, you are in a unique position to courageously push for policies at your institution that mirror the freedoms enjoyed by students at public universities. You can create a culture where love for other Christians and our colleges doesn’t have to be at odds with love for truth.
Yes, it will take a dose of courage from all of us, but no one ever said seeking truth was easy.
Cassidy Grom is a local government reporter at NJ.com and the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, with bylines in the New York Daily News. She is a graduate of Taylor University, where she started a movement for free press in Christian colleges. Connect with her on Twitter @CassidyGrom.
|Introduction to Series: When Freedom is not Free: Viewpoints on Student Media Controls on Christian Campuses||Michael Longinow|
|With press freedom comes much responsibility||Alan Blanchard|
|Courageous Advising: A Free Press is Challenging but Do-able||Cassidy Grom|
|Nationally Accredited Journalism Programs and Faith-Based Mission: Not Antithetical, Much Needed in Today’s Media World||Doug Mendenhall|
|True liberty means press liberty: Let the students report||Paul Glader|
|Christian Journalism & Privacy Laws||Terry Mattingly|
|Liberty & Journalism||Michael Longinow|
|Mr. Falwell’s Folly||Timothy C. Morgan|
|Liberty Censorship||Donna J. Downs|
|Inside Liberty’s Culture of Learning: An Opportunity to Excel||Amanda Sullivan Sokolik|