An Open Letter to President Pelton from an Ohio University journalism student

By Ugonna Okpalaoka, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University

Dear President M. Lee Pelton,

It’s been brought to my attention that Emerson College is now the first school in Boston to give its student government control of the school’s newspaper funding. As a journalism student at Ohio University, I find this news unfortunate. You may believe this issue is isolated to your campus but it’s made its way to other students around the nation. I may not attend your college but it’s important to me, and I’m sure other journalism students and professionals, that the freedom of press remains intact on college campuses.

I’ve researched the changes to Emerson College’s constitution and how they affect the newspaper. From my understanding, the Berkeley Beacon will no longer be guaranteed 8% funding that was first put in place by contract 20 years ago. The originators of the contract had the right idea. They understood that freedom of press is a highly valued first amendment right in this country. They understood that in order to have a successful and well operated student newspaper, it needs to retain some independence from the college on which it reports.

As president, I’m sure you want nothing but the best success for your students. By allowing this constitutional change, you’re inhibiting a population of them from reaching their journalistic potential.

The student government may not directly dictate what is reported on in the pages of the Berkeley Beacon, but the fact that there’s a possibility of funding being decreased based on what’s published is enough of a threat to prevent any student from being the best journalist and Emerson student he or she can be.

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The national Society of Professional Journalists mentions two things in its code of ethics: “Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information” and “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.”

Those are the ethics the students of the Berkeley Beacon aim to live up to in their reporting, and anything less than support for that is unacceptable.

Thank you,
Ugonna Okpalaoka
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University