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North Alabama student journalists run blank front page after censorship attempt, earn praise from local newspaper

The University of North Alabama’s independent student newspaper ran a blank front page late last week to protest the retaliatory firing of their adviser. Now, the local newspaper is praising the students for “standing their ground under the protection of the First Amendment.”

On Nov. 29, the staff of The Flor-Ala printed their bi-weekly issue with a blank front page consisting of only a nameplate, the index, and a single line: “[W]ithout a free press… this is what the paper would look like.”

The striking statement came amid ongoing tensions between The Flor-Ala and UNA over the university’s firing of Student Media Advisor Scott Morris, who worked with The Flor-Ala.

Just weeks after UNA Provost Ross Alexander criticized Flor-Ala’s coverage of two high-profile personnel departures, Alexander announced Morris’ role was being restructured to require a Ph.D.

Morris, a veteran journalist, doesn’t have a doctorate.

While UNA has claimed that such a restructuring had been under consideration for years, they have yet to provide any proof of such a claim.

On Nov. 26, the College Media Association censured the university for behavior “that reeks of retaliation for Constitutionally protected student speech.”

“A public university should never seek to silence the student press,” CMA President Chris Evans said in a statement. “Removing a staff adviser who seeks to champion the student voice is one way to do just that.”

FIRE echoed CMA’s sentiments in our own letter to UNA the next day. FIRE expressed additional First Amendment concerns over UNA’s enforcement of an apparent unwritten “protocol” regarding how students, faculty and staff must interact with the media, including The Flor-Ala.

And on Sunday, Florence, Alabama’s local newspaper, the TimesDaily, posted an editorial containing a detailed timeline of the controversy and praise for the actions taken by The Flor-Ala’s staff in the face of adversity.

“We will continue to admire the instruction from UNA’s Mass Communication Department that has instilled in these students a passion to guard First Amendment rights, even when that means going against the very institution teaching them,” the TimesDaily wrote. “We stand with you and thank you for reminding us all, with that blank front page, just how dire it would be to live under a controlled media environment.”

The editorial is worth a full read over at the TimesDaily.

FIRE is closely monitoring the situation at UNA. For the latest, check back to our Newsdesk.

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