Saturday, April 20, 2024

COLUMN: MSU is barring media access. We can't cover community healing without it.

July 20, 2023
<p>Photo by Max Gersh, IndyStar</p>

Photo by Max Gersh, IndyStar

We at The State News are committed to covering what matters to our audience. As a student-run, independent publication, we are free of censorship from MSU. Our mission is to share the stories of our Spartan community. After a shooting that killed three of our classmates and severely injured five, we need to continue covering the healing.

But our university isn’t letting us do that.

I am the editor-in-chief for the 2023-2024 academic year and I’m frustrated to have to introduce myself under these circumstances. Michigan State University is barring media access, and I’m concerned.

A few days ago, a State News journalist tried to provide coverage on an annual memorial honoring the lives of 23 students lost in the past academic year, but he was stopped. 

These moments of healing and remembrance matter to you as students, so they matter to us.

This student memorial, which media has covered before, was advertised in an email to faculty as an event open to “family, friends, faculty, students and community members.” The State News is a part of the MSU community. There was no RVSP process. It was clearly public. 

As soon as the reporter walked into the program with his camera, a member of university communications approached him. He told the reporter if he took his camera out of his bag, he would be told to leave. 

In an earlier text message, he told The State News that reporters were not welcome at the community event. WKAR covered and live-streamed the event publicly on livestream.com. 

If our reporters wanted to attend the memorial “as students” that would be acceptable, university communications said. But any reporter or photojournalist was prohibited from covering the event, insisting we would be putting people’s grief “on display.”

It’s not up to the university to decide which emotions should be covered. In fact, some students want a platform to share their grief and frustration. Not allowing reporters to attend this public event is how MSU is trying to control its narrative. 

And if we are prohibited from covering aspects of community healing, we can’t do our job as journalists. While the university sees it as publicizing grief, we see it as telling the full story. 

I understand that life after a shooting isn’t easy to navigate. The State News has been there since Feb. 13, from updating the community live that night to finding stories of resilience now and in the future. 

Even when the university distributed and promoted its “No Media” signs, we stayed respectful of boundaries set by our audience and sources. These signs were used after the shooting for MSU community members to non-verbally decline an interaction with a journalist. At the bottom, they read, “Please contact university communications.” Media should not have to put up with being redirected like this anymore. MSU communications should not be the sole voice and students should have the autonomy to share their perspectives.

It is our mission to continue sharing these stories, but MSU won’t allow us to do that. By pushing us out, the university is giving the media fewer rights than the public. That’s not OK.

We’ve run into this before, and MSU has allowed a few exceptions. For example, we wanted to report on the Q&A sessions with the Title IX coordinator candidates, an event open to all students. We were told no photographers would be allowed into the session, but that MSU can’t technically stop any student, so a student reporter with no camera could attend. 

Where was that compromise for this week’s event? While university communications did offer for a reporter to watch a live stream of the student memorial tribute instead, that isn’t acceptable. If we are prohibited from reporting at the event in person, we can’t be there to tell the full story. 

It shouldn’t be a battle to send a journalist to cover what’s happening at our public university.

This year, we commit to pushing back on these arbitrary, discriminatory practices against media. We will continue to advocate for State News journalists and make it clear to the university that the media has a right to attend public events.

We’re doing this for our audience. We want to report on what matters to you, join your conversations and answer your questions. But we can’t do that effectively with MSU refusing us access.

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