The Loyola University Chicago student newspaper is calling out the university administration for obstructing and ignoring student reporters, likening the behavior to the Trump administration’s antagonistic relationship with the media.
In an editorial published Thursday, the Loyola Phoenix’s editorial board said university media relations is restricting student reporters’ access to faculty and staff.
“Students have a right to critically and fairly examine the workings of our own university, an institution that feeds, houses, protects and educates us,” the editorial read. “You were brought here to instill us with your so-called Jesuit values. Act like it.”
According to the editorial, student reporters are given vague statements instead of actual interviews and are reprimanded for directly contacting sources instead of going through the media relations team. Loyola also funnels interview requests by professional reporters through the media relations office.
“Stopping us from reporting on anything, even if it might be seen as critical by the administration, only harms the students who we serve,” said Henry Redmon, the paper’s editor-in-chief, in an interview.
In a statement, Loyola spokesperson Evangeline Politis said this was a longstanding media relations policy that was formalized last year.
“We treat Loyola Phoenix reporters like any other journalists and work to fulfill their requests in a timely manner,” she said. “We agree with the student newspaper that we have a responsibility to tell the stories of the university and keep students, staff, and faculty informed, and the policy helps us do so efficiently and effectively.”
But in a training video from March 2018 that was posted online in August, communications specialist Kelly Haggert said the media policy was “recently created.” The newspaper editorial notes that just until a few years ago, Loyola Phoenix staff freely reached out to faculty and staff without any middleman.
The editorial also raises concerns with that training, which advised professors and staff how to interact with reporters.
According to the video seminar, which WBEZ reviewed, media relations staff incorrectly stated that “off the record” has become “nonexistent,” and said “negative stories get clicks.”
“(University Marketing and Communications) only falls short of calling the press “fake news,” the same dog whistle the Trump Administration uses to try to delegitimize less-than-flattering stories,” the editorial said.
In the same webinar, Haggert said the school’s recently created media policy is not to restrict faculty interactions with reporters, but to “amplify the brand” of Loyola.
Loyola isn’t the only school where students and administrators have clashed over student media’s access on campus.
Nearly two dozen media advisors at colleges and universities nationally reported that college administrators had tried to censor or control student journalism over a three-year period, according to a 2016 report from the American Association of University Professors and other groups. In response to their survey, AAUP released a report reaffirming their belief in free press for student media.
“Administrative efforts to subordinate campus journalism to public relations are inconsistent with the mission of higher education to provide a space for intellectual exploration and debate,” the report authors wrote.