Central Washington University officials and student journalists met on Monday to discuss concerns about the school’s interview requirements, and they agreed to keep talking.
The meeting resulted in renewed lines of communication, but the parties did not appear to agree on whether there was prior censorship.
“Each participant acknowledged that they now understand each other’s perspectives,” said a joint statement signed by Vice President of Public Affairs Kremiere Jackson, the director of athletics, the dean of student success, the associate dean of health and wellness, student media representatives and the student body president.
“We began the process of having more direct and consistent lines of communication between attendees. A consensus was reached about the need for trust, accuracy and better relationship building,” it said.
The meeting came after more than 100 students gathered earlier this month to protest administrators requiring interview questions ahead of arranging student media interviews. The Observer, CWU’s student newspaper, published screenshots of emails in which student reporters were asked for questions prior to interviews.
Media organizations don’t typically provide interview questions to sources in advance. The Observer said in an opinion piece that journalists avoid the practice because it can hinder candid interview responses, allow for interference in article content and limit valuable follow-up questions.
Representatives of The Observer and Central News Watch, a student-operated broadcast, said the requirement was in breach of an agreement from an April conversation to provide school officials with context about interviews, but not exact questions. They equated the requirement to censorship.
School officials said at the time that the requests were intended to help guide staff to the best sources for articles, rather than to limit interview scope. They also said each school department has its own approach to media requests.
Jackson said she would not provide comment on the meeting beyond the joint statement.
The Monday meeting was arranged by student body President Jasmin Washington to find a solutions to the issue.
After the meeting, Washington said that the issue was a miscommunication and that “both parties agreed there was no censorship whatsoever.” She added that student media would be filing corrections to previous reporting, which were reported in a way that made “students perceive certain issues in a certain way.”
Online editor for The Observer, Mariah Valles, said the meeting was “a great start in the right direction” but denied both of Washington’s statements Tuesday.
“The Observer and Central News Watch never agreed that there was no censorship,” she said. Valles added that administrators had written a similar sentence in the draft joint statement, which student media demanded be removed before it was released. “There do not need to be corrections on our previous reporting.”
Valles added that in future reporting on the issue, student media agreed to incorporate more perspective from administrators, but that none of what The Observer published was incorrect.
Valles said the student journalists “believe that there was content regulation via questions being asked of us.” She added that the athletics department communications staff had censured student media in one article in which they were denied interviews with current and former students, but that “we are ready to move forward from the situation with athletics.”
CWU released a statement last week that said “it in no way censors its students.”
Valles said she expected to meet with Jackson to start drafting agreements. During winter quarter, she said they expected to pilot different solutions to media communication and interview requests.
One option might be a form for student media to use “to help with transparency, trust and accuracy,” Washington said. She said student media would also provide more advanced notice for interviews to allow administrators an opportunity to prepare.
The Observer and News Watch have received support from alumni and other journalists. The regional and local chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists sent letters to the university in support of student media.