Mistakes happen. Fortunately, while we are still in college and in a learning environment, we can learn from them. The Mirror at Fairfield University recently experienced pressure from the university to revise its editorial policies after a column in the newspaper’s Coffee Break section offered tips to girls who endure the “walk of shame” from a stranger’s bedroom one morning after and congratulated respective guys for ridding themselves of “stage five clingers.”
The column also went into detail about how women should congratulate themselves for giving the guy “a great story for the rest of [his] life” after a one-night stand.
As of October, when the column ran, Fairfield had threatened to withdraw its financial and facilities support if the desired revisions were not produced. That time period ran out Monday. Fortunately, The Mirror decided to take the up the university and take a step towards developing a more professional code and written procedures.
Does this situation sound familiar? While The Recorder’s own run-ins with controversial printed content have come under completely different circumstances – fortunately the First Amendment protects our work from financial retribution, as CCSU is a public university, and Fairfield is not – the lesson is essentially the same. Newspaper columns published in poor taste will always incur the wrath of students and administrators.
And even though Fairfield explicitly does not have to adhere to protecting the newspaper’s First Amendment rights, the administration is offered an extremely generous provision in exchange for maintaining university funding, which, according to a university statement, includes financial and facility support. The Mirror’s current agreement includes $30,000 per year over four payments with the provision that they print 12 issues per semester.
From one student newspaper staff to another, it was wise to accept the terms of the university. From an outsider’s point of view, at least, their terms seem benevolent and with sound intentions. Regardless of whether The Mirror’s “He Said” column, which went on at length about embarrassing sexual relations between students, was actually offensive, the university’s offer was a fair and magnanimous one.
According to a letter by Fairfield’s officials, the university required an agreement written by The Mirror staff to contain “provisions that sufficiently address the deficiencies in the current guidelines, particularly as they relate to the use of vulgarities, obscenity, sexist, racist, or homophobic language, etc.” The letter by Vice President for Academic Affairs Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J. and Vice President for Administrative & Student Affairs Mark Reed also indicates that while the agreement should include safeguards and and editorial pre-publication review by the students themselves, it will be absolutely free of influence or review by any administrative or faculty entity.
According to Editor in Chief Tom Cleary, the newspaper put in writing an already unwritten practice for scanning to edit out or cutting articles altogether that may be offensive in nature. But putting pen to paper, and establishing the importance of procedure and guidelines makes all the difference.
Unfortunately the pressure comes at a time when the administration’s side is presented as a reprimand after controversy, but such is the story of student newspaper evolution and growth. It happened at The Recorder, but the newspaper is the better for it for having developed a code of ethics, which was born out of a similar situation. Our living ethics code document aims to prevent said offenses and provide direction as to what to print in good taste and with good judgment.
And again, while The Mirror is going to be subject to harsh criticism regardless, creating a document, at the very least, serves as tangible evidence that the newspaper is reacting positively and maturely.