It is the stated policy of the Department of Digital Media and Journalism that the “faculty values freedom of speech and the press as tools for informing and promoting a democratic dialogue.” Yet we feel that the department doesn’t appreciate the hazards student-journalists might face.
We write this, because on Friday, Nov. 10, one of The Little Rebellion’s staff members attended the “Standing with Palestine Rally” hosted by the Muslim Student Association at SUNY New Paltz on Parker Quad. Afterwards, our staff member wrote an editorial based on their experience at the event and their thoughts on the Israeli-Hamas war, taking a stance for the freedom of the Palestinian people. FYI: This was an opinion piece; it is not the same thing as a news story. The point was not to simply report on the march, but put in writing their own opinion of the war as well. Our staff member questioned why the U.S. was funding a war that to date has killed over 15,000 Palestinians, far too many of them women and children. The editorial did not discount the October 7th attack on the Tribe of Nova Trance music festival near Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel, and the senseless murder of at least 1,400 people and holding more than 240 people hostage. It asked why there wasn’t a ceasefire yet for the thousands of innocent families that had been destroyed as a result of the war.
All that said, as an aspiring journalist, our member debated whether having their name on a piece about such a controversial topic would endanger their own life, and possibly, their future career. Remember: TLR staff are just students, like you. They have future jobs to get—or maybe not get if what they wrote as students makes someone not hire them. This was a genuine concern raised by the students of our class around the topic of having a byline on this editorial.
For this reason, before publication, we asked for guidance from the department chair of DMJ and of faculty. Their position was that the story must be posted with the author’s name—or not at all. Their reasoning behind this was that one anonymous editorial might lead to a lot more of them and that this would be a license to “troll” the readers of The Little Rebellion.
Our fear is that the department doesn’t fully understand our concerns. Because many students in DMJ and staff of this publication know about what happened to Oracle staff members when they bylined controversial pieces.
According to the Times Union, in Dec. 2021, Cassandra Blotner, a Jewish student, was kicked out of SUNY New Paltz Accountability, a sexual assault awareness group, for publishing on her personal Instagram a post about Israel, which read: “Jews are an ethnic group who come from Israel This is proven by genealogical, historical and archeological evidence. Israel is not a ‘colonial’ state and Israelis aren’t ‘settlers.’ You cannot colonize the land your ancestors are from.” The New Paltz Accountability booted Blotner for possibly condoning imperialism and settler-colonialism.
Blotner’s life was also turned upside down, according to Times Union reporting, which says that “When The Oracle, the university’s student newspaper, published an article on the complaint, Blotner was harassed on the anonymous social media site Yik Yak, including by someone who wrote they wanted to spit on her.”
We raise all of this because of the impacts on Blotner. But the student reporters for the Oracle also faced consequences for bylining their reporting. They were harassed, with allegations of falsehoods and mis-reporting the facts, and worse, doxxed on social media and other platforms.
Our fear as members of this staff is something similar. We are not established journalists. We are students. But by not allowing us to post an editorial that protects us by not putting a byline on it we believe that shows that the department does not care about the safety of the student and is trying to quiet our voices about controversial topics. We believe they are trying to protect the image of the program and school, if there are any possible negative reactions to the editorial. It is our view that DMJ is clearly not practicing what they are preaching.
According to the First Amendment, all Americans have the freedom to express their opinions without the fear of repercussion, regardless of their political or religious beliefs. When students are forced to choose between their freedom of speech and safety, the environment starts to resemble dictatorships rather than democracies.
Universities that fail to defend the constitution and the right to free speech not only fan the flames of hatred and division but also send a message to its students that freedom of expression isn’t as absolute as it once seemed.
The Little Rebellion respects the wishes of the author to remain anonymous, and we think that the Department of Digital Media and Journalism is trying to silence student voices. And that’s wrong.