Editorial: LB 206 shows importance of autonomous student journalism

The Wayne Stater Staff

A bill protecting Nebraskan student journalists’ First Amendment rights, Legislative Bill 206, was introduced in the Nebraska State Legislature on Feb. 1. On top of ensuring students’ autonomy, LB206 will safeguard the jobs of student media advisers from administrative repercussions. Essentially, the bill allows both high school and college student journalists to report news without fear of censorship, prior restraint, or post-publication consequences.

Though it came as little surprise, opposition from the Nebraska State College System proves just how crucial of a role The Wayne Stater plays on this campus. NSCS Chancellor Paul Turman wrote in an official letter of opposition that the State College System was opposed to the bill because it “would mandate that each student journalist is solely responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, sports, and advertising content for any school-sponsored media.”

The rationale Turman provided for his objection to this “mandate” is that NSCS provides student editors and/or editorial boards freedom to make “all decisions related to content,” yet NSCS does have restrictions on advertising content. Specifically, advertisements that promote alcohol or tobacco are not permitted. The opposition by NSCS is ostensibly related to its ability to restrict certain forms of advertising.

Although the NSCS claims that student editors have complete freedom to make “all decisions related to content,” past incidents at Wayne State have proven otherwise. NSCS or Wayne State administrators have not explicitly interfered in the production of The Wayne Stater or censored any material; however, a tenured faculty member and adviser of The Wayne Stater was removed from his position as newspaper adviser due to controversial coverage of administrative decisions.

Given this recent example of administrative interference, it is clear that NSCS and WSC administration are not opposed to making decisions that restrict the autonomy of student journalists. The knowledge of past repercussions continues to create a precarious environment for the staff of The Wayne Stater in which students are forced to consider self-censorship or not pursue controversial stories at all in fear of administrative reprisal.

In our last issue we carefully published an article that we felt contained information vital to the safety of women on campus. WSC administration did not notify the campus of the incident or the ongoing investigation. They also refused to comment about the issue publicly until the Omaha World Herald covered our article.

Without the freedom to investigate and publish this article, the incident likely would not have been publicized. As the response to our article indicates, students are clearly concerned about the incident and the overall safety of the WSC campus. Bringing the information to our campus community, however controversial the decision may have seemed, created widespread awareness of the incident and contributed to making our campus safer.