The new political era we are experiencing pits the credibility and objectivity of journalists against fervent and deeply ingrained beliefs about the world. Inevitably, stubborn ideologies win out over objective reporting and non-partisan, factual information. We are inclined to believe what confirms our current beliefs and reject those that challenge them. This attack on objective journalism is affecting college student publication organizations.
This Summer, World Magazine published an investigative piece about the censorship experienced by staff members’ involved with Liberty University’s Newspaper, Liberty Champion. The article, Papered Over, describes the beginning of increased censorship experienced by members of the editorial board when Liberty University’s President Jerry Falwell Jr., publicly supported President Trump’s candidacy in 2016. Staffers experienced censorship, altering of editorials, and backlash directly from President Falwell.
Papered Over recounts several instances of censorship experienced by editorial board members including: the axing of an article criticizing President Trump’s “locker room talk,” denying the news editor the opportunity to cover a protest on campus and the censorship of an editorial that expressed criticism about a political performance on campus supporting Trump. Ultimately, the news editor and editor-in-chief were fired when President Falwell ordered a reorganization of the newspaper that abolished the editor-in- chief position and the news editor position and required that all articles must be approved by the newspaper advisor, a faculty advisory board and the President. Four dedicated staffers resigned following this decision.
World Magazine quoted President Falwell instructing the newspaper editorial board: “And as such, the publisher of the publication, which is the university, is responsible for content decisions, to find stories to be covered by Champion personnel and makes all of the calls on the articles, photographs and other content. … We’re going to have to be stricter in the future if these protocols aren’t followed.” This should instill fear in all college students. Our ability to discern fact from fiction and critically think about our world is inherently threatened by blatant efforts to censor specific ideologies.
It is apparent that journalism on campus is beginning to experience the attacks that journalism on the national stage has dealt with. On-campus news and editorials are a profoundly important aspect of college life. Threats to the independence of newspapers to showcase objective journalism and a variety of opinions is essential to the growth of students and the University.
The Villanovan is published by the University, which warrants some regulation of content. However, as an editorial board, we are independently in charge of reading and publishing our writers’ work. The Editors-in-Chiefs decide what is and isn’t acceptable. We are not required to submit our articles to different rounds of administrative review. Our advisors are supportive in the pursuit of good journalism. We do not erase paragraphs or deny articles because we disagree with them. We do our best to fairly represent the University and the student body. As an editorial board with administrative support and a strong commitment to publishing factual and balanced articles, we are disturbed by the partisan censorship experienced by journalists at Liberty University and others.
For our fellow student journalists who were denied the opportunity to express their opinions in editorials and objectively report about events related to students, we use our platform to defend the importance of student journalism on campus.