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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Stony Brook University’s administration actively works to stifle student journalists

The exterior of Stony Brook University’s Administration building. Student journalists at the University oftentimes have to rely on campus administration to complete their reporting but frequently face difficulties due to the strict public relations policies across campus. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

When I first walked into the office of The Statesman in January of 2023, I had no idea about the hurdles I would face as a student reporter.

I already had journalism experience — I was a transfer student from Binghamton University and worked as a news reporter for their campus newspaper, Pipe Dream, during my one semester at the school. Yet, in my first semester at The Statesman, I came to realize how different covering Stony Brook University would be compared to Binghamton.

Stony Brook’s administration routinely denies student journalists crucial access required to complete their reporting, often hiding behind their Media Relations Office and imposing unnecessarily strict public relations policies across the entire campus.

A quick Google search reveals that I’m not the first one to have these complaints. An editorial written over 10 years ago raises complaints about the school withholding information from student journalists. Rebecca Liebson, former news editor of The Statesman, also wrote a piece in 2019 addressing Stony Brook’s aggressive management of student journalists.

Liebson’s piece was later featured in The Atlantic. Consider the irony of a university having such aggressive public relations policies toward its students that it attracts the attention of a major publication.

If student journalists want anything from the administration, they must fill out a “Journalism Students Inquiry” form that requires them to disclose interview questions in advance and list sources for the story they are working on.

If you decide to ignore the form and email sources directly, administrative staff are told to redirect student journalists to the form. Most of the time, staff will either forward your email to a member of the Media Relations Office or just tell you to fill out the form and offer no information.

In a 2016 statement published by the Student Press Law Center, the authors wrote that these practices “obstruct the work of student journalists and do a disservice to the public when they impede the fulfillment of those requests. Policies requiring faculty and staff to clear media interactions with a campus public-relations office create an intimidating atmosphere that is inimical to the free exchange of ideas and, at a public institution, impermissibly restrict employees’ constitutionally protected freedom of expression.”

These policies are ridiculous. The form is often used as a tool to stonewall student journalists, and constantly disclosing interview questions ahead of time undermines our ability to properly conduct our reporting. What’s the point of conducting interviews if the questions are settled in advance?

It wouldn’t be that bad if the Media Relations Office helped set up interviews and gave student journalists helpful information, but the majority of the time they just provide us with canned statements that don’t shed much light on anything.

And let me get something straight: these policies where the administration isn’t allowed to talk to student journalists apply to the entire staff, not just top brass. Not even resident assistants (RAs) can talk to us on the record without being punished. This is a policy I find particularly unreasonable; RAs are students first and are in a unique agreement with the school where they don’t work for money but for housing and food.

RAs are an important group for college papers to cover, but the actions of the administration and Campus Residences prevent us from reporting on them at all. I find it very troubling that a public university prevents its student journalists from speaking to other students.

And you can bet that if students can’t speak to us, the rest of the administration can’t either.

In addition, Stony Brook is home to the only public undergraduate journalism school in New York State. For many students who want to become journalists and attend an affordable school, Stony Brook can be one of, if not the only, few attractive options. It is unfair to subject aspiring journalists to these policies that hinder their professional development by denying them the ability to effectively do their jobs.

Stony Brook is also a public institution of higher education. For a school that loves to brag about its social mobility ranking and paint itself as a beacon of equity, its attitude towards the student press is completely against the values it claims to uphold.

Numerous instances have led both myself and other staff members at The Statesman to feel that the administration refuses to take us seriously as a news organization.

A perfect example of this can be found in the announcement that Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis was leaving the University to become the president of Yale University. McInnis gave an interview to the Yale Daily News, the university’s student paper.

After the article from the Daily News was published, I reached out to McInnis requesting an interview. The email was forwarded to the Office of Media Relations, which told me that Yale’s media office was handling McInnis’s interview requests and to reach out to them. I did so and have yet to receive a response.

The official email announcement that McInnis was leaving for Yale was sent just 10 minutes after the article from the Daily News was published.

The fact that McInnis seemingly chose to reveal that information to another student paper and not the student journalists at her current institution is very telling. To me, this indicates that McInnis and her administration do not view us as legitimate journalists, or even respect us as student journalists.

In another Daily News article published in mid-April, another Stony Brook administrator, Vice President for Student Affairs Rick Gatteau, gave the paper an interview about his thoughts on McInnis amid rumors she would leave Stony Brook.

I admit that I had not directly reached out to Gatteau or other administrators about these rumors, and cannot predict what their reactions would have been to my requests. However, I can say that I’m not sure the outcome would have been positive and constructive for our coverage considering that throughout the semester we have been frequently ignored by the administration, denied interviews and redirected to media relations.

But, I did attempt to cover these rumors. When I reached out to media relations for comment, their response was that “President McInnis has every intention of returning and continuing the strong, positive momentum at Stony Brook.”

Another example: McInnis and the members of her administration have refused to speak to us about the encampment protests that took place near the end of the semester. But when reporters from The Statesman were joined by local news outlets that cover Long Island, the administration decided to hold a press conference. Our reporter covering the encampment was not told of this press conference by the administration and only found out about it after a reporter from Newsday informed her it was taking place.

Based on these experiences, I and other staff at The Statesman have felt that we are not being treated as we should be. But there may be another side to this that has not been addressed. To any administrators reading this, I invite you to reach out to The Statesman and discuss with us any qualms you might have had with our coverage, as well as the concerns brought up in this piece. We are more than happy to have that conversation with you.

Recently, I became The Statesman’s news editor — meaning I now direct the paper’s news coverage. I want things to improve as I take the reigns. I have hopes that with a new president, there is a possibility the relationship between student media and the administration can change.

But first, we need communication and action on the issues I described above.

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About the Contributor
Sky Crabtree
Sky Crabtree, Assistant News Editor
Sky Crabtree is an Assistant News Editor for The Statesman and a sophomore studying journalism and political science. He joined the paper in the spring of 2023 as a news reporter and was promoted at the end of the same semester. Outside of The Statesman, he works as a news intern for WSHU Public Radio and hosts "The Political Corner," a segment on the Stony Brook Media Group's news show.
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