By Tracie Powell
The online editor was fired and the opinions page editor is under a two-week suspension at Grambling State University’s student newspaper, The Gramblinite, following growing tensions there between students and administrators.
David Lankster Sr. said he’s been fired after tweeting statements from anonymous sources and photos of dilapidated facilities (here and here) using the newspaper’s Twitter account, and he accused the school’s Director of Public Relations and Communications, former journalist Will Sutton, of attempting to censor student journalists.
“I was behind it. I was the only one on the ground hearing from the students and players,” said Lankster, the former sports editor who has worked at the paper since 2009. “Sutton was trying to mute our voice because we were tweeting the real news, the truth about what was going on.”
allDigitocracy reached out to Sutton on Sunday; he referred questions to the newspaper’s adviser who did not immediately respond to emails.
Tensions that have been simmering for weeks came to a head last week when Grambling football players walked out of a meeting with college president Frank Pogue; and they refused to play in a scheduled game over the weekend, taking a forfeit. Students are upset about crumbling buildings and a lack of teachers among other things, they said. There’s even mold in a section of the newsroom, Lankster said. Doors to the area are kept locked and students are told not to enter the area, he added.
While Lankster was fired, his colleague Kimberly Monroe was informed she was being suspended for two weeks. Monroe, the editor of the newspaper’s opinion section, said she was asked by the newspaper’s adviser to remove parts of a column submitted by Grambling’s student government president, including the president’s email address that he asked students to use to report problems on campus.
“I refused and then I left,” said Monroe, a graduate student who said she has worked at the paper for two years. Monroe said she later attended a student rally where she spoke with local and national media about crumbling buildings and the student-teacher ratio. The next day Monroe said the newspaper’s adviser, Wanda Peters, asked what role she played at the rally. Monroe responded that she was there as a concerned student. “That’s when (Peters) told me that she didn’t know what she would do with me, but something would have to be done,” Monroe said.
Monroe can be seen in this Associated Press photo and is identified as the organizer of the Oct. 17th rally. She told allDigitocracy that she did help gather students, but had no idea members of the football team would attend. Having players present at the gathering on Thursday turned it into a media event that she did not expect, Monroe said.
Monroe was notified by email on Friday afternoon that she would be suspended from her job at The Gramblinite due to “unprofessional behavior.” An excerpt from the letter below states:
As a member of The Gramblinite, you should not have become involved in a public rally, as you did yesterday. I know Mass Communication was not your undergraduate major so you missed the classroom instruction regarding conflict of interest. But the Code of Ethics that you must read and sign each semester as part of your Gramblinite application outlines certain behaviors that are expected of you. Item No. 4 of the Code reads:
“We report the news without regard for our own interests, mindful of the need to disclose potential conflicts. We avoid involvement in campus events, politics, demonstrations and social causes that would cause a conflict of interest, or the appearance of such conflict.”
The letter is copied to Dr. Edward Welch, interim chief of the school’s department of mass communication, Dr. Janet Guyden, dean of the college’s graduate school and Dr. Connie Walton, provost and vice president of academic affairs. Peters, the adviser, did not immediately respond to emails asking for comment on the disciplinary actions against the student journalists, but she did include in the letter that Monroe contributes “much to The Gramblinite and it would be a blow to lose your participation.”
Monroe said she does not agree with the suspension. ”I’m a student first,” Monroe said in a telephone interview, “a student who works for a student newspaper.” Monroe added that she did not sign a code of ethics at the start of the current semester.
Lankster, the online editor, said he began tweeting developments and student frustrations with administrators around Oct. 17. He does not recall how many tweets he posted, but said some of them have been deleted by school officials, but not before they had caught Sutton’s attention. Sutton, a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, did not answer specific questions, but earlier he tweeted these admonishments to Grambling’s student journalists:
@TheGramblinite Are you serious? “Unidentified”? Really? Step up and be identified and stop hiding, or don’t use them as sources.
— willsutton (@willsutton) October 17, 2013
@TheGramblinite What?! You’ve got to be kidding. Is this REPORTING? Is this supposed to be JOURNALISM? Maybe someone needs a lesson.
— willsutton (@willsutton) October 17, 2013
allDigitocracy has reached out to the newspaper adviser and other school officials. We’ll continue to update this story.
Correction: An earlier version of this blog entry stated that David Lankster Sr. was a staff writer at The Gramblinite. That is incorrect, he was online editor. We regret the error.