Members of the Ithaca College community are challenging a new policy that forces student media groups to request interviews for administrators through the college’s office of media relations, effectively prohibiting them from contacting the individuals directly.
After the policy was enacted on Oct. 1, between 45 and 65 I.C. students gathered in protest at the Peggy Ryan Williams Center, the school’s administration building, on Oct. 12, according to one of the protest’s organizers, Ayla Ferrone, a senior at I.C. The students staged a sit-in, holding signs and chanting about the policy’s flaws.
The protest then moved to Free Speech Rock, before arriving at its final location in the Campus Center, where I.C.’s Board of Trustees was meeting.
During the event, both students and faculty spoke about their feelings on the new policy. Most of the students were from the Roy H. Park School of Communications, but Ferrone said there were other students who supported the cause.
Another organizer, Brennin Cummings, a senior at I.C., said that “our goal for the protest was simply to show the administration and the Board of Trustees that this policy wouldn’t go ignored by student media and those who wish to uphold the values of a free press on this campus.”
Critical discussion of the new media policy continued on Oct. 15, when the I.C. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sponsored a panel discussion featuring student editors and faculty members.
David Maley, associate director of media relations at I.C., said that at the discussion, he was able to answer the questions and concerns that the I.C. community raised about the policy.
“I understand that some student journalists are still unhappy with the policy, as the protest on campus demonstrated,” he said. “It remains my job to ensure that the implementation of the policy continues to work well for all involved.”
Still, Ferrone said that there is no need for the policy.
“This was instated as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” she said.
According to The Ithacan, I.C. said it intends on better facilitating interviews with administrators — not controlling the media — through its new policy. The college has also said that the policy simply reinforces the way that external media work to contact sources and that the policy will not be applied to students who are writing pieces for classes.
In an Oct. 4 editorial, The Ithacan expressed concerns that the policy was a sign of I.C. becoming increasingly corporate and closed to discourse.
Ferrone said that students in journalism classes should receive the same treatment as those in student media groups.
“If their reasoning for the policy is that student media needs to learn how to work in the real world, why isn’t this being enforced in classes as well?” Ferrone said. “Many points of the policy just don't add up.”
Cummings added that the policy is a “stain” on I.C.’s journalism and communications program.
“It puts a gatekeeper beween student media and the administration they’re trying to interview,” she said.
Cummings also said that the policy renders the jobs of I.C. journalists more difficult.
“Although the administrators that put this policy into place swear this isn’t censorship, putting any kind of restriction of this kind is another hoop that journalists have to jump through,” she said.
Defending the administration, Maley said that the policy has not hurt student media.
“I believe that their fears of censorship, stifling of viewpoints and an inability to reach sources in a timely fashion have not been borne out,” he said.
Yet Ferrone summarized her issues with the policy as that of a “transparency issue.”
“I believe it’s a way for the college to funnel what information they want about the school to be available to the public,” she said.
Cummings emphasized the policy’s hindrances.
“It also increases the inevitability of receiving PR from sources, rather than honest information,” she said.
Both Cummings and Ferrone expressed their desire for the policy to ultimately be revoked.
“The students and faculty of Ithaca College will continue to fight back against these policy changes whatever way we can. Rest assured, we won’t be letting this policy stand,” Cummings said.