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Here's the initial story that caused all the trouble... Back on 11/8/2011, a streaker interrupted ECU's game with Southern Mississippi & the campus newspaper got, well... the full monty.
- As is common, initial reaction was mixed and led some students/community members to steal copies of the newspaper (which is illegal) and to throw dozens of them in the trash.
- The paper received, and published, letters to the editor condemning their coverage. Note the comments which include a petition to force the resignation of the campus newspaper's editor-in-chief, Ms. Caitlin Hale. The change.org petition received a total of 3 signatures despite an undergraduate student population of over 18,000.
- The newspaper also got some praise, which they also published.
- The controversial picture was posted on the front page of the newspaper & additionally along with the article on the paper's website. When ECU media adviser Paul Isom was asked to intervene and to seek removal of the picture by the university's vice chancellor, Virginia Hardy, Isom is quoted in the Bellingham Herald that saying such an action would lead to "a slam-dunk First Amendment issue that the university will lose and will go on for years." After initially stepping back, ECU administrators later met with Isom and members of the newspaper staff and warned them of the consequences potentially associated with maintaining that editorial stance.
This past Wednesday, nearly two months after the story was published, Isom was fired.
- ECU's decision to terminate Isom has led to a backlash from First Amendment advocates, fellow advisers, campus media organizations, ECU faculty and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC).
- Isom was interviewed on WNCT-TV 9 regarding his termination & a pair of his colleagues went on the record with their opinions. The TV package includes an interview with the SPLC's Frank D. LoMonte. Here's Part 1 & Part 2 of Channel 9's work.
- The SPLC deals with many such cases, so many they have even created a community for fired media university personnel called F.A.C.T. (The Fired Adviser Comfort Team).
- Isom hasn't ruled out legal action and he may be in for a fight. While the SPLC makes solid legal points, it's more than likely the university's vague language in their defense of a private, personnel decision (combined with a standard termination clause found in most contracts) will leave Isom little hope of victory. Here's hoping a university, preferably one in which the media adviser doesn't answer to a MARKETING director (?!?), sees Isom defended the legal actions of his students, as is his right and, by the design of the profession, his duty.
While Isom's termination clearly affects him most, The East Carolinian's staff will also suffer because no media adviser worth their salt would/should come anywhere near this job, and that's a detriment to the continuity of their education. However, it teaches the young fledgling journalists a vital lesson, controversial decisions have significant consequences. And, for former ECU adviser Paul Isom, the new year isn't so happy.
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