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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Responsibility of a Student Newspaper to University

Bella Rios

Bella Rios was a 2018-2019 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Student reporter, Aidan, covers the university’s largest fundraising event of the year. One of the school’s biggest donors announces his large donation to build a STEM facility on campus. During his speech, the donor discusses the importance of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. He also criticizes the school’s current dean of engineering and calls for his removal.

Aidan commits to writing an accurate representation of the evening, such that the article includes the donor’s comments about the dean of engineering. The statement is not the focal point of the article, but it is still included.

After the article is published, the university administration urges the news staff to remove the incendiary quote from the online version of the article. Administrators insist that the quote is unfavorable to the donor and reflects poorly on the university’s principles. The administration does not want to incite conflict among its faculty and donors – and does not want the student newspaper to do so, either.

The editorial staff initially refuses but the administration remains adamant, reminding students that the university is their publisher. The editorial staff is conflicted. They believe in the importance of independence and autonomy as a student-run newspaper, and that their obligation is to hold the university accountable for their actions – not to act as a public relations firm. While they appreciate the school’s support and funding, they believe in independent oversight of their publications.

The staff also considers the financial implications of disregarding the administration’s request. The university has the power to reduce the newspaper’s funding, which would make it difficult to print and distribute copies. Secondly, the staff does not want to jeopardize their relationship with school administration since reporters often rely on school officials as news sources. Less access to such important figures will hinder reporters’ ability to write nuanced and informative articles.

Discussion Questions

1. What should the editorial staff do in this situation?
2. What is an ideal relationship between university administration and the school newspaper?
3. How can the newspaper retain its autonomy amidst pressure from its publisher?
4. Whose interests should the student newspaper serve?

Jun 7, 2019