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EDITORIAL: Newspaper closing prompts questions

This week, a Florida college student newspaper was shut down and its entire editorial staff had 15 minutes to pack up personal belongings as the locks of the paper's office were changed.

Stetson University's The Reporter finally pushed all the wrong buttons for the school's administration with the publication of its annual April Fool's issue, The Distorter.

Yes, the newspaper contained mock articles that included, according to Florida State University's newspaper the FSView & Florida Flambeau, "racist jokes and a sex column advocating rape and domestic violence." The issue also included gratuitous profanity in mock advertisements.

The real issue, however, lies between the lines of the story. As a student newspaper, the Daily Lobo staff members were aghast at the editorial decision-making process that obviously produced this issue of Stetson's newspaper, but the April Fool's edition was merely a scapegoat for the real issue.

The Reporter is one of Florida's oldest college newspapers and is recognized as being one of the best college newspapers in Florida. Obviously, some hard work and good journalism has been put into the newspaper. One line in the U-Wire article stood out the most: "The newspaper had been under pressure from the administration to tone down the content of recent editions." Why? Good journalism has always been the bane of many a university administration, especially when students are uncovering information about the institution that it would rather have swept back under the rug.

Stetson University is a traditionally conservative, private college and according to the law, private colleges can restrict any publications they see fit. For a public university, that is against the law. It violates the First Amendment. Despite Stetson being a private institution, the school has violated the First Amendment in theory.

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Several options existed for the school to penalize the editorial staff and the newspaper instead of shutting it down and, in a large way, shutting out the entire voice of the student body. School funds could have been taken from the newspaper. The editors of the paper could have been put under review and then fired. This could have resulted in the newspaper being shut down for the remainder of the semester, but a statement would have been made. These were merely two of the options available to them.

Instead, the school chose to close down a newspaper and effectively destroy the source of its very criticism. That violates freedom of speech. It sets a very bad precedent for all institutions of higher education.

Stetson defended itself by stating that "just because the First Amendment allows freedom of expression doesn't mean it's ethical to print just anything." This is absolutely true. But to shut down any expression is violating the First Amendment.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on these freedoms that our government has taken upon itself to protect and our troops at this very moment are fighting in Iraq to preserve. There is a reason that the First Amendment is the very first amendment. Our founding fathers thought that freedom of speech and freedom of the press were vital to a free society and a lasting democracy.

What message are we sending to those outside our country when we violate our own freedoms?

The former Reporter editor in chief, Teresa Schwarz, said that, "We've learned a lot in the last week as students and journalists. I think that's something [the administration] is overlooking."

When we overlook our own country's fundamental rights, then we need to ask ourselves what exactly we're fighting for.

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