HCC student newspaper ‘hijacked’

Student media in Hutchinson, Kansas, came under attack recently when copies of the paper were heisted from the racks and hidden from public view in order to prevent an unflattering story from being widely read during a campus event.

The Hutchinson Community College Collegian, a weekly student-run newspaper, published on April 5 a story about a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student who stole a drawing of the school’s mascot, the Blue Dragon, during a forensics tournament.

Before another forensics tournament was to take place, the issue was distributed  Fearing judges would look down on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln team, “HCC debate and forensics coach Travis Roberts directed some students on his team to collect the free Collegian newspapers from racks, so the papers could be hidden while the national tournament was on campus,” according to The Hutchinson News’ report by Mary Clarkin published April 30.

This is a clear violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Collegian adviser Alan Montgomery told The News it was a “shameful, despicable desecration of the U.S. First Amendment.”

“Anyone trying to infringe upon or take away the First Amendment rights of any of my journalism students might liken the experience to smacking a hornets’ next with a stick,” Montgomery said in a statement as reported by The News.

In response to Roberts’ actions, The Collegian published a rare, 8-page edition with a banner headline proclaiming: “Hijacked.”

No theft charges have been filed at this time, though in similar cases student publications have won and perpetrators have been charged with Class A Misdemeanors and been forced to pay more than $300,000 in damages.

Read The Hutch News Article:

Read The Collegian’s Coverage:

My Take

Shame. Shame on Travis Roberts for instructing his students to do such a heinous act. The fact his students are able to act in forensics and argue in debate is a direct result of the First Amendment. He should have known better than to bite the hand that feeds him. 

Even if he were to use the excuse that he didn’t realize it was a violation of the First Amendment since it equates to censorship, being ignorant of the law does not make it OK. You are still accountable for your actions.

I am pleased to read, however, that Roberts has apologized. It doesn’t make up for what he did, but at least he is appearing to accept responsibility and recognize he was wrong. He should be counting his lucky stars no charges have been filed. The Collegian could rake him over the coals in court.

As a Collegian alum and a journalism educator, I am thrilled with the response of Collegian adviser Alan Montgomery and his staff. The outrage exhibited is justified, and if they don’t stand up for themselves, no one will.

Reading the coverage of the event (see links above) showed how well the staffers handled the situation. The reporting was solid and complete. Montgomery runs an incredible program, and under his tutelage, the student journalist at HCC will never be trampled upon. Not just because he will stand up for them, but because he has instilled within them the fiery passion and devotion to the First Amendment that is required to be a journalist.

Moving forward, I will be watching closely to see if anything else transpires at HCC. Hopefully this event will only yield one more moment of excitement — when all the students and faculty learn what the First Amendment means to all citizens and why they should realize how important it is to each and every one of them.

Until then I wish Montgomery and the Collegian the best of luck. I’m rooting for you!