Student Censorship by University of Kentucky


A reporter with the student newspaper at the University of Kentucky was barred from a news media event with basketball players. DeWayne Peevy, an associate athletics director, told The Lexington Herald-Leader that the newspaper’s basketball writer, Aaron Smith, broke an unwritten policy barring reporters from interviewing student-athletes without first going through media relations.

Oh sure – those students journalists… student athletes can’t speak with student journalists but the rest of the media can? And there is logic in this decision? It looks like University censorship. Plain, simple and regrettable.

Good News? Good Grief. Get a Grip!

I have just about had my fill of complaints about contemporary news coverage… what “the media” isn’t covering, should cover, how it slants and skews politics, and its multitude of sins – real and imagined – by everyone who wants to be critical – and none of whom is willing to do much more than complain bitterly, loudly, and usually without specifics to back up their argument or assertion.

“If you want good news look in the sports pages!” That’s an old saw uttered by news men and women defending their craft against an audience whose justification for not reading, listening or watching coverage of the events of their era is their claim that news is so depressing.

Depressing?  Tough.  Sorry… but tough.  I’d say – honest.  I’d say realistic. 
I’d suggest news is the first draft of history; that these are troubling times, news should portray the times we live in and not a Varnish or Pollyanna view like a rotogravure. 
News is based on the currency that you need to know, understand and ingest significant events, thoughtful evaluations and interpretations in opinion columns, and have a contextual, deep understanding of news makers in a complex world in order to make intelligent decisions and navigate the shoals of life.

News isn’t supposed to be happy, or filled with feel-good-isms.   News isn’t an alternative for a list of firsts compiled by Guinness Book of Records on the bar.  It isn’t about bromides or pontificating  politicians; it shouldn’t be point-counterpoint reduced to platitudes and silliness as if an argument over the Bickerson’s breakfast table.

These are serious times demanding serious and sober coverage that reflects the spectrum of argument and focusing on decision points. News should be presented in many voices and through a prism reflecting and refracting the many points of light representing all angles, sharp points and all colors.

Witness the emergence and growth of good news.  It is pervasive.  On television news shows happy stories which were once relegated to the close of the program and were called kickers, aimed at leaving the audience with a smile on their face, now vie for more prominent placement in the middle of nightly shows.  The producers have been urged by consultants to fill the programs with features and enterprises that are not so serious, that will not be so depressing that audiences will change the dial in order to find more entertaining fare elsewhere.

There is a parody of good news for a version of The New York Times. There is even an amusing video showing audience reaction. Alternative news sites featuring only good news can be found at the Good News Network as well as Good News Daily.

Is this attributable to the growth of McPress? The USATodays and other entertainment shows which seem to hold such audience sway? Is it about the loss of editors as Gene Weingarten recently wrote in the Washington Press and I commented about here?

People will tell surveys that they long for serious news and would read or watch that if it was available. I think that’s how they want to be heard by the pollster but is not reflected in their reality. The graduate students I teach barely scratch the surface of the new papers they see, sites they scan, or programs they tune to. I recently asked a large group of professional communicators who work for a public consortium in California how many papers they read — 3 hands went up. How many read more than a single news site – 2 more hands. The CEO later confided that the lack of news knowledge and savvy among the organization was more than a little troubling.

Is this the result of years of neglect for issues such as civics, or history?  Is finding news via search a balm for actually reading more thoroughly – is what we think we need to know sufficient for what we really ought to know?

News isn’t supposed to be easy.  It can, should and does celebrate accomplishment and personal bests.  But it must also include the dark underside of the world we live in – for only when that is exposed can there be any real hope for change.  For those who find it sufficient not to read or watch, or to seek out saccharin sites with only good things they are living like ostriches.

As if we needed another reason to feel older…

The annual survey on incoming freshmen at Beloit College has been released, and as if I wasn’t already feeling older this summer Tuesday morning, this provides ample evidence that the times they are a’changing, again.

The incoming freshmen and women of the class of 2014 have always lived with and been surrounded by technology; they consume games and have been weened on education programs.  They use technology even if they don’t understand how it works.  Enhanced user interfaces have made even the simplest tasks automated.  Emails and cell phones have been constants in their lives.  They are surrounded by information yet they appear to actually consumer very little and perhaps understand even less.  They are satisfied by easy searches and are unaccustomed to challenging the veracity of what they find.   They are schooled in utilizing tools and speak of too kits; they can create sophisticated media, but I am not sure they appreciate its power to do more than entertain.

It seems worthy of longer discussion about how these”kids” are truly different, partly because of technology, partly because of upbringing and education.  Suffice it to say, what they find interesting, important and meaningful as well as how they rely on technology, sometimes in lieu of real experience, will continue to send shock waves throughout the media world.

Excerpts from a story filed by Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press Writer

“MILWAUKEE – For students entering college this fall, e-mail is too slow, phones have never had cords and the computers they played with as kids are now in museums.

The Class of 2014 thinks of Clint Eastwood more as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry urging punks to “go ahead, make my day.” Few incoming freshmen know how to write in cursive or have ever worn a wristwatch.

These are among the 75 items on this year’s Beloit College Mindset List. The compilation, released Tuesday, is assembled each year by two officials at this private school of about 1,400 students in Beloit, Wis.

…Remember when Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Dan Quayle or Rodney King were in the news? These kids don’t.

Ever worry about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.? During these students’ lives, Russians and Americans have always been living together in outer space.

… Another Mindset List item reflects a possible shift in Hollywood attitudes. Item No. 12 notes: “Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.”

A number of incoming freshmen  said they partially agreed with the item, noting they were familiar with Eastwood’s work as an actor even if they hadn’t seen his films.

…Jessica Peck, a 17-year-old from Portland, Ore., disagreed with two items on the list — one that says few students know how to write in cursive, and another that suggests this generation seldom if ever uses snail mail.

“Snail mail’s kind of fun. When I have time I like writing letters to friends and family,” she said. “It’s just a bit more personal. And yes, I write in cursive.”

Peck did agree with the item pointing out that most teens have never used telephones with cords.

“Yes, I’ve used them but only at my grandparents’ house,” she said.”

And once we thought getting a telephone call was a big deal…

Shut Out & Shut Down but Media Refuse to Shut Up as Public Officials Behave Badly

Preventing access as a form of censorship is a dangerous point on the slippery slope toward despotism and government gone wrong. The latest slip and slide in this direction was written last week at the Regents of the University of California meeting in San Francisco when a journalist with a camera was barred from their public event.  The Regent’s defensive argument was he didn’t have a press credential; the weakness to their argument is the press credential per se wasn’t required.  Credentialed or not  any one is entitled to make pictures at a public meeting under Bagley-Keene, a California law since 1967.
To make matters worse UC police instructed that no one was allowed to make pictures of them doing their job, in this case acting as gatekeepers to enforce a decision which was against the law. This is a chilling thought, one I wrote about on June 9th “Use a Camera, Go to Jail” as it seems many jurisdictions are increasingly less interested in public scrutiny of their work than ever before.

From Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle, UC Regents baring of filmmaker draws protest “State law is clear – any member of the public has a right to film and record public meetings of state bodies,” Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, wrote to UC President Mark Yudof.

Yee, who chairs the Senate’s committee on Public Records and Open Meeting Laws, asked Yudof to explain not only why filmmaker Ric Chavez was barred from taking his video camera into the meeting, but why UC policy – which makes no provision for the public’s right to film public meetings – “is in complete contradiction to state law.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of the UC system being difficult toward news coverage. A Santa Barbara based cameraman has written to me about the UC campus there requiring fees for news coverage and offering limited access. This is a public school open to the world which needs to be reminded that coverage of news stories doesn’t come at the point of a pen writing a check.

What happens when something really serious happens… will institutions first ask who’s there to cover it, what their intentions are, their motives?  Perhaps they’d like to see examples of prior work?  How much will be required and how far back would they like to review? Should a network include coverage of the student massacre at Kent State? How about carnage at Virginia Tech?  Neither of those stories is likely to sway an administration’s decision toward openness?  UC Regents would be hard pressed to review the free speech movement at Sproul Hall at UCBerkeley – ah the halcyon days of tear gas in the plaza and riot-helmeted cops in the hallways when the sound of clicking handcuffs rivaled that of chalk on blackboards.

Organizations – public institutions – nor their officials should not be allowed to use access as a guarantee against positive or negative coverage, scrutiny or assessment by the citizenry of the quality of their work and the decisions they make.  It just isn’t a model which protects our right to know, the right to cover, and the rights of all of us to measure and monitor the government we pay for.

Who should decide – at an institutional level – what deserves coverage and what could be potentially embarrassing or liable? Maybe in spite of the open meeting law Regents and others can impound cameras, take away note books and recorders. Hey, why not just go into hiding entirely, star chambers and executive session.

But this is happening… more and more often.  This is distressing. This is dangerous

Public places – San Francisco’s Ferry Terminal, the passenger piers at San Francisco International airport – both operated with public funds – use both real and rental-cops to move crews off property demanding that they have prior knowledge and approval from management.  This is the same management which uses public funds to operate these public facilities… places where any one public with or without cameras is invited… so why not news coverage?

This decision to close ranks and circle the wagons is mirrored too at the corporate level.  As an example, BP is reportedly making it most difficult to video or film their work in the gulf. Reportedly many local operations, paid for with BP funds, are off-limits to media. It seems curious that BP – already a premium member of the pillory club for the crime itself as well as the initial cover up is now making strides to become more secretive, closed, and manipulative of the media, as far as it can be based on the money it is investing to that end.
More and more often corporations are risk-adverse to speaking on camera or allowing crews in to make pictures of their operations.

We’re seeing the first draft of censorship and limits on freedom of the press.  Sadly the mainstream press has become so emaciated by cuts that there is no one left standing it seems to fight the good fight.  As a public we may not realize what we’re losing until we have lost it.