An editor in chief would have allowed the paper to have an independent voice in its coverage of university protests, Goldstein said. But historically black colleges are often underfunded, and officials protective about the schools’ reputations—and thus more likely to be overcontrolling.
“Grambling has made it very clear that they have no interest in journalism and they have no interest in their students,” Goldstein said. “They are only interested in good PR.”
Faculty interference in the Gramblinite’s affairs has a history. In 2007, school officials suspended the whole newspaper and tried to require student editors to submit all stories to a faculty adviser—Peters—for editing before publication. After a torrent of criticism from news organizations across the country, the university rescinded that decision.
Peters disagreed vigorously that the current arrangement is exactly what the university tried to put in place six years ago. “It’s not even close,” she said. “I look over the pages to see if there are any misspelled words or punctuation errors. I point them out and I hope that (students) will change or fix it. I don’t control what they publish … I don’t overrule anybody, I advise.”
But events during the recent turmoil tell a different story.
—Monroe, the opinion page editor, said Peters instructed her to remove parts of an op-ed from the last edition of the weekly newspaper. Peters said the information should have been removed because the content was submitted after deadline and “didn’t add anything to the column.”
—In a letter from Peters informing Lankster of his indefinite suspension, the adviser wrote: “You were given a role of responsibility, but your behavior has irretrievably damaged the reputation of the newspaper. Your appointment as the Gramblinite’s digital presence was based on your longtime role at the newspaper as well as the maturity and professionalism that should have been gained at your internships. More was expected of you. If further investigation substantiates your unprofessional behavior, you will be terminated and removed from any association whatsoever with The Gramblinite.” Only editors hire and fire or threaten to; When asked about this Peters responded: “I’ve already said that I overstepped my bounds. I don’t want to talk about that anymore.”
—Peters described how another newspaper staff member came to her office earlier on Monday to talk about the newspaper. She instructed the student to write down all that was wrong with The Gramblinite, and to provide that list to her, not an editor.
—Finally, student journalists were compelled to turn over the password to the newspaper’s Twitter account “because I wanted to know,” Peters said, acknowledging that she went to three students seeking the information before she got it. “I didn’t tweet anybody, and I certainly didn’t delete any tweets,” she said. “I want the students to be able to do their jobs freely, but in these types of situations we should know how to access the accounts if we need to.”
Now that the two editors have their jobs back, the bigger question is whether they want them.
Lankster, who has worked at the paper since 2009, said he doesn’t plan to return to The Gramblinite. “I feel like they tried to silence my voice,” he said. “Rather than deal with that again, I’ll just start my own blog or website.”
Monroe is weighing her options. “I’m not 100 percent sure at this moment. I will speak with my academic adviser later this week. But as of right now, I haven’t been back to the newsroom,” said the graduate mass communication student, who has worked at the paper two years. “There are just a lot of things still left unsaid in terms of the communication between all staff members, including the adviser.”