Editing or censorship? editorial by Editor in Chief Riley Howard

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

I met with ASRMC on Nov. 17 to defend myself against a complaint of censorship that a student writer filed.

Although the student was invited to the meeting, he did not show up. Throughout the meeting I argued that it is the responsibility of an editor to choose the content that is published in a publication. I also argued that getting published and paid for writing is a privilege, not a right. I agree that in the case of an opinion piece, an article should not be rejected due to the views of a writer. However, the quality of the writing must meet a certain standard in order to be published.

photo by Nicolas Cordero

photo by Nicolas Cordero

Rocky Mountain College’s Student Publications policy states: “It is the policy of Rocky Mountain College that student journalists shall have the right to determine the content of official student publications. Student publications shall remain free of censorship and advance approval of copy. The Summit aspires to serve as a forum for student expression and as voices in the uninhibited, robust, free, and open discussion of issues. Each publication should provide a full opportunity for students to inquire, question and exchange ideas. Content should reflect all areas of student interest, including topics about which there may be dissent or controversy.”

In essence, the policy prevents censorship of students’ work from the college, administration, and advisors of the Summit. As editor-in-chief of The Summit, I strive to give students the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights. Yet, it is also my responsibility to make sure that all articles follow strict guidelines. These guidelines not only promote high-quality writing, but also promote journalistic integrity.

Throughout the first semester of this school year, The Summit published several opinion pieces by this particular student writer. His extreme right-wing views did cause a stir with readers, which I believe is the goal of a good opinion piece because it can start a valuable dialogue between readers. Dialogue is key to any democratic platform.

Then he submitted a piece called “Subjective Science and Magic Lightning.” The piece attempted an argument against a group of student activists at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. In the piece, the writer grossly misinterpreted and misrepresented the beliefs of these student activists. He based his article on a YouTube video that showed a meeting between student activists and school administrators. I watched the video, and although the students could have presented their opinion more tactfully, the belief held by these activists stems from a widespread belief that science has been used by Western society for racial oppression and colonialism. The activists also argued that traditional tribal beliefs do have value in the present day. Personally, I found the writer’s interpretation of the students’ beliefs, and his article, to be culturally insensitive, but that is not why I chose to reject the article.

I determined that a slippery slope argument against a viewpoint held by a group of student activists in South Africa that was misconstrued by the writer was not worth the ink it would take to print it. It was evident to me that the writer did not fully understand the subject. However, this might not have been quite as clear to some of our readers. In this particular article, the writer used long words and a complex and confusing sentence structure to make up for a lack of writing and argumentative ability.

Winston Churchill said, “Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge. Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.” As a practicing minimalist writer, I agree with Churchill.

Throughout The Summit’s editing process, the writer gets a chance to revise the article. At the end of the revision if suggested edits to the quality of content have been disregarded by the writer then the article can not be used. I would never change the content or meaning of an article: that is the writer’s job. If suggested changes to the technical aspects of writing such as punctuation, capitalization, AP Style, or sentence structure have not been met, then I can and I do take the liberty to make changes as I see fit.

Early in the editing process, suggestions were made that, if taken into consideration, might have resulted in publication of the article. However, in this case the writer chose to argue with many of these suggestions, which is his right, but it is my right as editor to refuse an article due to a complete disregard of suggestions meant to promote responsible journalism. I felt that this valuable space in The Summit could be used to print writing that has more of an impact to our readership.

As editor-in-chief, I always hate to reject an article, especially after a student has spent time and energy writing it. But it is a reality of the publishing industry as a whole. Not every piece of writing will get published. We have limited space in each issue. The Summit tries to print writing that has a direct impact on our readership and their involvement with the Rocky community.

Throughout the meeting with ASRMC, I presented my reasoning for rejecting the article. A majority of the students agreed. One student, who showed up 30 minutes late to the meeting and missed most of my statement, did not. He played the devil’s advocate for over half an hour. Finally, I told him that I would love to see his argument in a well-written opinion piece. I’m looking forward to his response.

If you are interested in pitching an article for potential publication in The Summit, I encourage you to email me your article idea at riley.howard@rocky.edu or to attend The Summit meets weekly at 5pm every Monday in the basement of the RMC library.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *