Instead of Waiting on the Courts, Censored Student Journalists Fight Back by Going Indie

July 6, 2015

When student journalists at Iowa’s Muscatine Community College (MCC) newspaper The Calumet were intimidated by MCC administrators after publishing mildly critical content, they didn’t take it lying down. In May, we reported that The Calumet’s student editors had filed a complaint in federal court alleging MCC administrators had retaliated against them for engaging in protected journalism.

Now, they’re fighting back not just through the courts, but also by starting an independent newspaper.

The controversy began when the students published an article critiquing Student Senate policies for choosing “Student of the Month” award recipients, and The Calumet’s adviser faced an equal employment opportunity complaint alleging the article was retaliatory.

Then, when the newspaper printed a photo of a math and science professor as part of a story about faculty receiving research grants, the professor demanded that the newspaper ask his permission to use a photo of him or anyone else on campus. After The Calumet published an article about the professor’s demands, MCC informed its faculty advisor, James Compton, that it would replace him as advisor to the newspaper. MCC also rescheduled its newswriting class (in large part where The Calumet was produced) to an inconvenient time and cut the paper’s funding.

The recently graduated editors of The Calumet have decided a lawsuit isn’t enough. Instead of waiting for the notoriously slow wheels of justice to turn, they have decided to go independent, starting an unaffiliated newspaper called The Spotlight that won’t be subject to the unconstitutional whims of MCC administrators.

Since The Spotlight won’t be funded by the university, the editors launched a crowdsourcing fundraiser to raise the necessary cash to get their new publication started. They began with a goal of raising $500, which the Society of Professional Journalists pledged to match. This money would have given the editors enough to have the first couple of issues printed while they figured out ways to subsist on advertising and other revenue.

But as of today, The Spotlight’s GoFundMe has raised more than $5,000, and the editors have raised their goal to $5,500 to help fund additional issues of the newspaper and further offset startup costs.

FIRE commends these young journalists for fighting censorship through pursuit of independent journalism as well as through the courts.

Lindsie Trego is a FIRE legal intern.