For anyone who has worked in the student-run newsroom of a private college or university, the tension between free speech and intellectual restraint is all too familiar. The truth of the matter is, it’s not uncommon, albeit frustrating.
On Thursday, World magazine published a lengthy exposé about the inner-workings at The Liberty Champion, Liberty University’s student-run weekly newspaper, and the details are concerning.
Must read story about Liberty University https://t.co/ZR5cN4oHtl
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) August 16, 2018
During my senior year at Liberty, I served as the opinion editor for The Champion. I hit a few speed bumps, but nothing that put a stop to my work. The power the executive office wielded, though, always loomed over the office like a heavy cloud.
In between classes, I wrote my stories — columns on topics that sometimes sparked debate — and would often find them placed neatly on my desk when I returned. Many times, I was greeted with two words written in purple ink: “Let’s talk.”
Initially, that two-word phrase felt like an unwanted bedfellow, but soon became a mainstay of my career at the paper. They were the words of our stalwart and discerning faculty adviser, professor Deborah Huff. By the end of my journey with The Champion, I cherished that phrase.
Huff worked constantly to toe the line — she stayed true to the journalistic ethics she preached from the front of the classroom each day while we never once forgot The Champion was beholden to an executive office capable of shuttering the student-run enterprise.
— WORLD (@WORLD_mag) August 17, 2018
During my time on staff, for which I’ll always be grateful, I never thought the latter would ever be possible. But now I fear it’s not only possible, but likely, that The Champion could become nothing more than a PR tabloid, printing stories at odds with journalistic ethics.
The paper Huff has spent years carefully and deliberately establishing is in danger. A free press, even when exercised by novice student writers and editors under faculty advice, is critical to Liberty’s success and to raising up strong, ethical and principled journalists.
As Christians, we shouldn’t shy away from transparency or intrepid reporting — whether good, bad, or indifferent — because it makes us better. If students can’t learn the difference between honest reporting and biased coverage at their school newspapers, where can they learn it?
At The Champion, we always sought to adhere to a biblical ethic, an ethic that values truth above all else. An important part of the truth, as any journalist worth his or her weight would tell you, is telling the whole story, regardless of where it might lead.
Students should have the freedom to succeed and be given room to stumble; I did. Huff was there to help me stand back up. But the changes put in place, based on quotes included in the World magazine story, take that opportunity away from both Huff and the students in whom she’s invested greatly.
This is Bruce Kirk, *dean of the School of Communication and Digital Content* at Liberty University, telling kids at the school paper that their job is explicitly NOT to do journalism but to make the University–and president Jerry Falwell Jr–look good. https://t.co/62KYWyiDkm pic.twitter.com/7rU17moSYg
— Christopher Orr (@OrrChris) August 16, 2018
Students should be celebrated — not punished — for seeking to “do journalism” and to “go out and dig and investigate.”
Over the three years I studied at Liberty, I often heard this phrase: “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.” Those are the words of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., who constantly strived for excellence.
I agree with him.
From this former student editor and proud Liberty graduate, I hope and pray this ship will be righted. The Champion should serve as a beacon to those looking for honest journalists constantly, and sometimes imperfectly, trying to discern the right balance between truth and grace.