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anecdote: An informative and entertaining story within a story. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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HU’s student newspaper confiscated by university

Oct. 23, 2003

By Elena Gaona
Daily Press
Newport News, Va.

HAMPTON — Hampton University administration confiscated the latest issue of the student-run university newspaper, the Hampton Script, on Wednesday because a letter from the acting university president was not placed on the front page as administrators requested, students said.

"We didn’t print something where they wanted it," said Hampton Script Editor Talia Buford, "and they took the papers away."

Students and their journalism faculty and mentors reacted to the news of the confiscation with shock and anger, citing the incident as an act of censorship that runs afoul of the First Amendment.

University acting president and provost, JoAnn Haysbert, did not confirm she ordered the newspapers confiscated, saying only "the publication was delayed," and "I’m looking forward to a homecoming paper."

On Wednesday, Haysbert asked students to print a new version of the newspaper with her letter on the front page. She made the request as the newspaper’s publisher, said Scripps Howard journalism school director Chris Campbell.

In an off-campus meeting late Wednesday, the staff unanimously decided to not reprint the newspaper with the front-page letter.

The decision "was not a sign of disrespect," said Buford, a junior print journalism major. "We all love Hampton, but at the end of the day, we’re still journalists. And personally, I know I couldn’t have slept if we changed it."

The HU administration considers the publication a "university newspaper, not a student newspaper," Campbell said.

The Hampton Script does not come under the school of journalism. Its advisers include an English professor, a journalism instructor and a University Relations staff member.

The 6,500 copies of the original Oct. 22 Homecoming issue of the newspaper never reached HU students and their parents and alumni in town for Homecoming week activities. A driver delivered the paper ahead of schedule this week from the Daily Press, where the newspaper is printed. The bundled newspapers lay ready to be delivered in the Hampton Script’s office in the morning.

But two university staffers removed the newspapers from the office by 11 a.m. Wednesday, Buford said, after students were ordered not to deliver the newspaper to about 36 campus distribution spots.

"Do not go gentle into that good night … Rage, rage against the dying of the LIGHT," students wrote in black marker on a note posted to the front of the newspaper office, quoting poet Dylan Thomas.

The confiscated issue featured a front-page story about HU’s cafeteria and how it passed the latest city health inspection and can remain open. Readers were told to look on Page 3 for a letter from the provost. Haysbert’s letter explains the steps the university took to correct the sanitary problems at the cafeteria, and criticized media for focusing on HU’s cafeteria problems when cafeterias at other universities also had health code violations.

In an initial story last week about the problems at HU’s cafeteria, the Daily Press reported that campus eateries such as those at the College of William and Mary and at Christopher Newport University had fewer than 10 violations at each establishment, many of which were corrected by follow-up visits. HU’s four inspections so far this year show repeated and critical conditions totaling more than 100 code violations since March, many of the problems not corrected by September. HU’s cafeteria cleaned up and passed health inspections with good marks last week.

But when the student journalists made the news of the cafeteria passing inspections the lead story instead of Haysbert’s letter, the newspapers were confiscated, Buford and other students say.

"If I was at the Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal I wouldn’t have run the letter on the first page, so we didn’t either," Buford said.

"Because you didn’t run this, we’re going to confiscate the paper?" said Richard Prince, editor of the web site www.blackcollegewire.org, an online publication where black colleges share and distribute news stories. HU journalism students consider Prince a mentor. Worried, they called to ask his advice.

"It’s positively outrageous, of course," Prince said.

Mike Hiestand, attorney and legal consultant with the Alexandria-based Student Press Law Center, agrees with Prince. The administration’s move is rare, he said. The law center advises high school and college newspapers about freedom of the press laws.

The university may technically own the newspaper, and it is a private university, Hiestand said, so legally they may be within their right.

But the decision is still "between right and wrong," he said. "This is wrong.

"College campuses are where students go to speak, to learn about new ideas," Hiestand said. "The school needs to decide here: Do they want a student newspaper or a public relations newsletter?"

After Wednesday night’s meeting, Briana Flowers, a junior who is on the Hampton Script staff, said "The people I’ve talked to are behind us 100 percent. I think they’ll have new confidence in us because we are doing this for them. We’re trying to give them the best paper we can."

This isn’t the first time journalism issues have surfaced at the university.

HU’s new Scripps Howard Journalism School opened last fall with money from the Scripps Howard Foundation. Journalism professor Charlotte Grimes left shortly after the school opened, citing differences with HU President William R. Harvey about whether students would be allowed to practice free speech and free press in their reporting.

During a meeting with faculty after Grimes’ departure, Harvey, with Haysbert at his side, promised that students would never be censored in any way.

When the college administration pulled the newspapers this week, journalism professor Sean Lyons said "I was shocked, I was utterly shocked. But more than anything, I’m hurt."

Students were also upset and wanted to talk about nothing else, said journalism professor Carolyn Phillips.

"The students made the right decision journalistically," said Campbell. "The hope is that gradually the culture at the university will change."

Staff writer Kimball Payne contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2003, Daily Press. Reprinted with permission.