Student journalist Kloe Witt’s name has been cleared after Loyola University New Orleans said it would no longer punish the campus newspaper’s breaking news editor for routine newsgathering.
This reversal by Interim President Justin Daffron came just days after Loyola had initially denied Witt’s appeal.
As FIRE reported, Witt headed to the university police station hours after a student’s on-campus arrest last month. She identified herself as a Maroon reporter, asked for some documentation, and openly recorded a conversation with a police officer using an app on her phone. Two weeks later, Witt learned she was being charged with “falsification or misuse of university records” and “unauthorized recording.” After an initial hearing, the university dropped the falsifying/misuse of records charge, but imposed disciplinary sanctions against her for the “unauthorized recording.”
When a student was arrested in the dining hall at Loyola University New Orleans last month, breaking news editor Kloe Witt rushed to cover the story for The Maroon, Loyola’s student newspaper.
But Loyola’s policy, which requires securing consent before recording conversations only when the other parties would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, doesn’t actually support this charge. And as FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative explained in a memorandum, when a journalist is present and clearly recording a conversation, it is unreasonable to expect privacy.
In reversing the charges against Witt, Daffron apologized for not involving himself in the situation sooner.
“[I]t is clear that the student reporter was doing her job as [Loyola] taught her to do it,” Daffro said. He further committed to ensuring the university’s code of conduct aligns with journalistic practices.
While we’re disappointed that at a university with clear policies protecting freedom of press, Witt faced a nearly month-long disciplinary process for engaging in basic newsgathering, we applaud Daffron’s commendable promise to ensure freedom of press on campus.
SPFI will be watching this process and stands ready to help Loyola enforce its policies to protect student journalists.
If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734)