(The following is my post on today's Daily Kos.)
A tradition of journalism I have admired since the first day I worked for a small town weekly newspaper in 1977 has been the way newspapers stand up for college and high school journalists when they run afoul of the powers that be.
Newspapers, whether in metropolitan areas or in the backwaters of the United States, have banded together to aid student journalists who refuse to back down in the face of overwhelming pressure.
I had the privilege of being one of those newspapermen who backed the youngsters and I never hesitated. The First Amendment is the backbone of this nation, and its first line of defense should always be those who practice journalism.
Sadly, in these days when newsmen are no longer in control of their business and have seen it run into the ground by a neverending stream of those who have risen through the advertising ranks, it is no longer a given that newspapers will defend the First Amendment.
In Joplin, Missouri, the city that I call home, the newspaper appears set on providing a roadblock to the First Amendment and leaving a group of courageous young journalists and their advisor out to dry.
Controversy has never been a stranger to Missouri Southern State University’s student newspaper, The Chart. The newspaper has provided a steady stream of top-notch journalists to Missouri and in doing so has received many honors.
The newspaper has never been tested as much as it has since the hiring of Bruce Speck as the university president two years ago.
Speck was the only person to interview for the most important position on campus and since taking the helm he has been at the center of much criticism, both for his management style, his efforts to dismantled the university’s much praised international mission, and an abortive, secretive attempt to bring a medical school to Joplin.
The Chart has been on top of each controversy involving Speck, thanks to the hard work of Editor Brennan Stebbins and the guidance of advisor T. R. Hanrahan. For that diligence, Speck, his aides or board members have removed copies of the newspaper from a recruiting fair, have done their best to undermine it in the community, including the use of planted comments on my blog, The Turner Report and on other venues, and have threatened Hanrahan’s livelihood.
The community’s “professional” newspaper, The Joplin Globe, has been 10 steps behind The Chart on every MSSU story, but for a short time appeared to be making an effort to catch up.
Bruce Speck was under so much fire; he completely stopped talking to the media. All requests to talk to him had to go through his public information director, and every one of those requests was denied.
Enter Michael Beatty.
Beatty, the former publisher of the Baltimore Examiner, took the top position at the Joplin Globe at the beginning of the year. And if there was any hope that he would usher the Globe into a brave new world of hard-hitting journalism it ended April 6.
As I noted on a Turner Report post last night, Beatty sent an e-mail to Bruce Speck, which revealed that the Globe had dropped public information requests on items that could have embarrassed Speck, offered to arrange a meeting with him, Speck, and the Globe’s editor to give him “examples of positive stories” the Globe wanted to run about MSSU, and offered Speck advice on how to manage the news.
I suppose it comes as no surprise that the university is a major advertiser in the Globe, as are those who have been pushing for a medical school in Joplin.
So it is sad, but no surprise, that Michael Beatty failed to follow the rich tradition of newspapermen who battled to defend the First Amendment.
And it is no surprise that he has left Brennan Stebbins and the band of intrepid reporters at The Chart, to fend for themselves.
There is one consolation to the story, however. Michael Beatty’s e-mail to Bruce Speck was not uncovered through a leak from some disgruntled university employee. It was revealed through good old-fashioned reporting.
The e-mail came to light thanks to a Freedom of Information request from the Chart.
Now that is the First Amendment in action!