What Ousted Newspaper Adviser Paul Isom Needs to Say To Journalism Professors Friday at Va. Tech

Paul Isom, will address the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium on Friday, March 9, 2012

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Courtesy:The Reflector

His removal as newspaper adviser at East Carolina University’s student newspaper earlier this year made national headlines while unifying scores of journalism professors who came to his defense.

Now Paul Isom will face many of his colleagues in one of his first big public addresses since he was forced to step down on Jan. 4 from his position with The East Carolinian.

Isom will be the keynote luncheon speaker at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

It’s not clear what he will focus on during his March 9 address, but the platform before several dozen journalism and mass communication professors from across the South will give him a chance to talk about the decision the students at The East Carolinian made to print photos of a streaker at a Nov. 5 football game.

Despite calls from organization such as the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) that asked Isom be re-instated,  the University was not persuaded and Isom’s successor, Frank Barrows, a veteran journalist was appointed as interim adviser.

Isom is a personal friend having worked with me in a previous position as director of student media at University of Alabama.

So it was kind of exciting to see someone I know become the FACE OF THE CAMPAIGN FOR COLLEGIATE FIRST AMENDMENT EXPRESSION.

Here are some guidelines for Isom’s speechwriter for what should be included in his address this Friday:

1. The Problem of Adviser Firings is NOT NEW.  

Isom ought to put his removal into context of recent firings at other institutions.   He might consult Prof KRG’s summary of some of those cases.

We on the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) National Board have a case come to us at least once a semester.  My friend and colleague, Frank LoMonte at the Student Press Law Center, would probably say collegiate newspaper issues represent one of SPLC’s biggest categories of cases.

After all the controversy erupted, East Carolina University released a statement saying its decision to fire Isom  was based on a “personnel matter” and not a First Amendment issue.

2. It’s NOT ABOUT ME!   The Big Issue is Student Expression

When we talk about the Isom firing,  we have to constantly remember that it’s not about the personality involved.  Rather, as journalism and mass communication instructors, we have to be the biggest advocates for our students to recognize and defend their First Amendment rights, even if they are making a decision with which we as advisers might disagree.

3.  Keeping One’s Personnel File Clean Is Essential, Especially for Journalism Professor and Media Advisers

If you’ve advising student media, all kinds of excuses can be made, strategies taken to remove you if the student media you’re advising publishes or broadcasts something controversial.

4.  Our Students Are Watching (and Listening ) To Us  When WE Try to Tell Them What is Right

Even though Paul Isom is no longer advising The East Carolinian, he has retained his position as a member of the East Carolina faculty.  His credibility ought to be even higher now because he stood up for what was right for his students.

5.  I’m Considering Legal Action, Here are the Issues

Certainly Isom won’t tell us whether he’s planning to fight for his job in a court of law.   But,  when these kinds of cases come up, are the advisers always the ones who should grin and take it?   Or, should we take our fight to the extreme?

If Isom doesn’t talk about all of these issues during his address at the 12:45 p.m luncheon Friday in the Latham Ballroom at Va. Tech’s Skelton Conference Center, he will certainly face more questions during a panel discussion that will immediately follow.

This will be certainly one academic conference where a little news might be made.

Maybe Isom will announce he has a new job.

Maybe he’ll engage some journalism professors who will criticize him for his decision.

Maybe we’ll find out that East Carolina University is about to be cast into even more negative light?

Whatever happens, it should be a very interesting afternoon.. and I’m excited to be among those planning to be in the audience.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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