By Cassidy Grom & Becca Robb | Contributors
Taylor University's practice of censoring its student press is dangerous. We require a free press to increase accountability in our community and to encourage student journalists to pursue hard topics.
The Echo's online policy states, "The University can not afford for questionable or negative Echo reporting to reach a worldwide audience. . . . Whereas the print publication is designed to be a journalistic effort, the online Echo would display the more positive and constructive campus stories."
This policy describes a website that only presents positive stories and fails to publish stories that include negative facts. Furthermore, The Echo's online content undergoes prior review, a form of censorship where university staff read and approve articles before publication. In February, The Echo's faculty adviser said I (Cassidy Grom) may not publish a local news article. But determining content is the student leader's role, not the adviser's.
While legal because Taylor is a private school, the online policy, prior review and adviser's practice of disallowing content are not true journalism.
Why Taylor needs a free student press:
We must keep campus leadership accountable. Strong journalism illuminates the whole truth, not just the parts that make us feel comfortable. And strong journalism is necessary for democracy because it allows the vulnerable to connect with the powerful. As one of the strongest voices on campus, The Echo is responsible to carry truth through all strata of Taylor's community.
We must encourage students to pursue difficult stories that train them into professional journalists. "How can we claim to be teaching students to pursue truth with integrity if our school newspapers are in actuality marketing tools?" said Adjunct Professor of English Amy Peterson.
Taylor's mission is to "develop servant leaders . . . to minister Christ's . . . truth . . ." We need brave journalists who don't hesitate to proclaim truth. Our student journalists aren't fully prepared to work in America's newsrooms until we practice the free press here.
Why Taylor's student press isn't free:
Donna Downs, communication department chair and associate professor of communication, said it was challenging to convince administration to approve The Echo going online in 2012 because it was considered a learning lab and not a professional newspaper.
"The Echo's mission from the beginning was by the community, for the community," Downs said. "Our thought from the beginning was that if we could go online and prove to administration that we were trustworthy to report the truth, the policy would be short-lived."
It's scary to trust students with your institution's reputation. It's also scary that under the current policy, Taylor can refuse to let us communicate truth. Let's keep the policy short-lived. We call on Taylor to adjust policies and end prior review to model public schools' full freedom of the press.
Journalists will make mistakes as we hold the powerful accountable for their actions - so you must also hold us accountable. Tell us when we make mistakes.
An example of censorship:
I (Becca Robb) wrote a 2015 article about a professor filing a lawsuit against Taylor. Before printing, it was reviewed by the university's lawyer, board of trustees and other paid employees.
After hours of research, writing and editing, I was allowed to publish the article in print, but not online.
It seemed wrong to withhold the story from the public, even though the lawsuit was pending and the news could create a difficult situation for Taylor. As Christ-followers, we don't shy away from challenges - publicly acknowledging the lawsuit seemed like the most ethical decision.
Sometimes, in our love for people, we don't talk about the hard things. We're afraid to hurt Taylor's reputation and wound our friends. That's valid. But until we understand the truth, we can't address the problem.
The February article referred to in this column was researched by a Taylor freelance writer about rape kits in Grant County intended for publication in the Chronicle-Tribune, but it was not written or published.