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Journalism Faculty Concerned about Treatment of Student Editors

By Valerie D. White
On September 18, 2015

While sitting in faculty meeting on Sept. 11, a 30-year, full rank faculty member suggested we discuss why President Elmira Mangum is sparring with The Famuan. Other faculty members chimed in concerning the Open Letter to the Editor of The Famuan published the day before. 

Having read Editor-in-Chief Reginald Mizell’s column and President Mangum’s response, I see why the journalism faculty was taken aback. From our vantage point, Mizell’s column has credence. Mangum’s? Not at all.

First of all, the decision to write an open letter to a student was poor strategy, especially when the students tried to reach Mangum for additional comment. The University immediately provided comment to an outside entity, while the students were ignored. 

We don’t treat our students that way, especially when the open letter is laced with fact errors. In addition, Mizell is a senior. This open letter in its erroneous context can damage his career. That is not “Excellence with Caring.”

Calling a student out this way is a first for me, and I have advised at three colleges. As the adviser, I have been called into meetings, presidents have sent word through the deans and student editors have been counseled, but never this tactic. In addition, the letter was sent to The Famuan with a directive to publish it. That is not how this works. It is bullying, the same action Mangum accuses the board of trustees of doing.

Therefore, someone has to speak up for the students.

Let us rewind to the events of the night of the Legacy Banquet. The editors were invited by our dean as guests for the historic occasion. The students, editors-in-chief of The Famuan and Journey magazine, somewhat giddy at the possibility of meeting the university president, were deflated by their reception.

Mizell’s account of the events that night is accurate. I know of three other sources who corroborate his report—the Journey editor, the dean and a former college president. Some of the Office of Communications and External Relations staff members were also in earshot. 

Now a review of the facts:

Fact Error #1: The opinion column by Reggie Mizell that was published in The Famuan on Sept. 3, 2015, has led to the misperception that my Administration is creating a “new” newspaper that is designed to replace the student-run paper as the voice of our student body.

Mizell never said in his column that he thought Mangum’s administration was creating a newspaper to replace The Famuan. Since Mangum mentioned the Wall Street Journal, the student editors thought the Mangum administration’s “newspaper” would be in competition with The Famuan. They said that Mangum mentioned already having sponsors at a time when The Famuan is struggling to secure advertising revenue.

Mangum’s use of the word “newspaper” was a misnomer because anyone would know that a newspaper coming from university administration would not be a newspaper at all, but a newsletter.

The “updating and upgrading” of www.famunews.com was a hasty cover-up. Its first version was the president’s personal blog with repeat stories that obviously were placeholders for future stories. This week’s “relaunch” provided a few more stories, but glitches still need to be resolved.

Fact Error #2: Mr. Mizell’s article, unfortunately, took my responses to questions about plans for the then-uncompleted site out of context.

Who asked these questions? Mizell never did. Mangum offered this information to the editors. The dean tried to intervene to no avail. Mangum even offered to pay the students if they would contribute a column because she had sponsors. Other faculty members have emerged saying they were solicited to write for the “official FAMU newspaper,” as well. And until recently, the website carried the name of the “official newspaper of FAMU.”

Student media are a strange beast to someone who does not understand them, particularly at a public university in Florida. The Sunshine State boasts of being a national leader concerning open access and open records. This experience can be jarring without a proper education or orientation.

Fact Error #3: It is important to note that the existing news site contains links to student media including, The FamuanFAMU TV-20, and WANM 90.5 FM, and the updated site will continue to promote these links.

Four media are housed at the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication: The FamuanFAMU TV-20WANM-FM 90.5 and Journey magazine. A student-run public relations firm will be revamped and introduced in the future.

I hope this column has accomplished its mission for the sake of Reginald Mizell’s integrity and skill as a journalist. It might warrant a response from the Mangum Administration. Even though I am poised to offer a rebuttal, I will not. The facts shall speak for themselves.

Valerie D. White is an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication and chair of Black College Communication Association.

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