My students must write articles for the student newspaper (the only student news media on our campus) as a way to learn how to write for a specific audience and what working for a real paper is like. This requirement is actually in the formal document that the communications department and academic dean have approved, called a form 335. Think of it as a kind of practicum or lab run by someone else besides the teacher, in this case, the student editors. Now, it is my job to teach my students what I consider to be best practices of journalism, which includes teaching that it is not ethical or professional to allow a public relations (PR) office to control what the students research and write or how they conduct an interview, especially what they ask in that interview, whether that involves the PR office of a branch of government, a corporation, or the administration of a college. In that spirit, I have a policy in this course that the students may not ask the OCA for permission to interview someone, nor may they submit their interview questions in advance of an interview to the OCA. I made the policy verbally, and it's not in the syllabus, but the students, with one exception, have honored that. The student who went ahead and tried to deal with the OCA to get an interview ran into serious problems with that office, and finally gave up. They did not allow him to interview the person whom he wanted to interview, but instead tried to get him to agree to a phone interview with someone at the Harrisburg campus, without first telling him who that person was. They wasted much of his time.
In a student's recent conversation with the vice president of our campus, Dr. Ramos, who tried to convince her to stop protesting the college's media policy, disparaged me and tried to make me out to be the source of all the students' frustrations because I won't allow them to comply with the college's policy. (Apparently the students don't need to go through the OCA when he wants to talk to them, only when it's the other way around.) This is not accurate. The policy itself as it is written does not demand that the media must contact the OCA for permission to speak to someone, nor does it say or even imply anywhere that the media must submit questions to the OCA for approval before an interview. The closest it comes to this is where it states: "Administrators contacted by media about official college matters will forward the inquiry directly to the Public Relations Office." It's the administrators' responsibility to contact the OCA, not the media's; the students should not have to deal with the OCA at all except to refuse any requests the OCA then makes for interview questions. Student editors of the paper have, in the past, offered to tell them the topics, instead, but the OCA refused to accept that alternative. The official policy even specifies that "On inquiries not involving official college matters, College personnel may speak to media in their areas of expertise without referral to the Public Relations Office and may be identified as a member of the college staff with proviso that they clearly indicate they are not speaking on behalf of the college. If requested, the Public Relations Office may identify resources, and/or provide guidance to members of the College community in response to the media." The OCA, the president, and other administrators choose to ignore that particular section of the policy.
My students seem to have mixed feelings about my rule for not responding to the OCA. Some probably wish they could just do what the OCA demands because it would be easier; a few have tried to work with the OCA or have encountered the OCA's obstructionism while they were pursuing other ways to get information from other sources, and most seem to have come to realize that it isn't easier and that the OCA is trying to obstruct them from writing about what they want to write about. Some of them worked on the student newspaper before taking the course and had to deal with the OCA then. Those students were frustrated and tired of dealing with them even before the course began. In class, we have talked about journalistic ethics and how to try to find other ways of getting information, and writing that the administrators refused to comment without the approval of the PR office. That's my point: they need to learn how to deal with these kinds of ethical choices before they have to deal with them in their careers and understand what other options they have besides agreeing to something that could compromise their credibility as journalists. Letting a PR office vet the person to be interviewed and the interview questions allows - or at the least makes it look like the reporter is allowing - the PR office to manipulate the reporter into promoting the PR office's agenda, whether that it is to hide or to promote something. That undermines that reporter's credibility and ability to do his or her job. No reputable, responsible journalist would do this. In the previous essay on this site, I quoted the vice president of content for The Patriot News, a Pulitzer prize winning newspaper. Her response supports my position on this. (See the previous essay, "What might employees say...")
I have no respect for an administrator who has to try to undermine a student's respect for a teacher and that teacher's authority in the classroom. For that matter, I don't respect an administrator who hides behind extreme, paranoid policies designed to control the student media so he can protect his own and, perhaps, the college's image, though this policy certainly does not present a good image of the college to the media and the public both serve. That's not leadership; that's cowardice.
But that's just my opinion; I am not, obviously, speaking on behalf of the college.