Student Journalists Forced to Give Police Unpublished Photos

By Wolper, Allan | Editor & Publisher, January 28, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Student Journalists Forced to Give Police Unpublished Photos


Wolper, Allan, Editor & Publisher


THE ANNUAL HALLOWEEN street parties in Carbondale, Ill., had become too hard to handle, so city officials ordered the bars and restaurants on the Strip to close at 10 p.m. the entire weekend.

Dozens of uniformed city and campus police stood behind barricades in the downtown area, a half mile from the University of Southern Illinois -- Carbondale (SIUC) campus.

A uniformed officer was stationed atop one of the bars with a video camera, while a television producer with a secret agreement to share his footage with police followed them on patrol.

The first night was without much incident, but the Strip erupted the next evening, Saturday, Oct. 28, after the bars closed, in an explosion of firecrackers, rocks, Mace and nightsticks.

Police donned riot helmets and waded into the crowd of 2,000 people -- mostly students -- and arrested 120 of them.

Two cars were overturned, some windows were broken, and dozens of people were injured, including a campus police officer who was hit with a firecracker, and an Amtrak attendant who was sprayed with Mace.

Afterward, Carbondale police chief Don Strom asked the news organizations for all the photos and videotape they had taken of the raucous street party, searching for evidence that could be used in court.

"The criminal acts were committed in public," Strom contended in an interview. "There should have been no expectations of privacy in that situation."

The ABC, CBS and NBC television affiliates in the area, along with the Southern Illinoisan, a daily that is part of the Lee Enterprises chain, originally rejected the request.

But the media outlets turned over their photo material after being served with a subpoena by the Jackson County State Attorney's office.

David L. Bennett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association, said the court subpoena for the newspaper photos was the first in recent state history.

"It's pretty extraordinary," Bennett said. "I've been here 10 years and had never heard of it being done before."

SIUC's Daily Egyptian, the student newspaper, and the SIUC Nightly Report, a news program produced by WSIU-TV, the campus television station, seem poised to fight the subpoena.

"The Daily Egyptian is a teaching newspaper," said Walter Jaehnig, director of the SIUC journalism program. "One of the lessons we teach is that a newspaper covers news. It does not participate in the law enforcement or prosecution process."

Michael Murrie, associate professor of the television news program, was just as emphatic.

"We didn't want to roll over on this thing," Murrie said. "We made sure that we would be on record as opposing it."

Jaehnig and Lloyd Goodman, managing editor of the faculty-controlled Daily Egyptian, emphasized that theme in interviews published in the student newspaper and private meetings with student journalists.

Jaehnig publicly criticized the commercial media for caving into police demands without a whimper of protest.

"And they still haven't written or broadcast anything to explain why they did what they did," Jaehnig noted.

Carl Rexroad, editor of the Southern Illinoisan, said he planned to write a media column about his paper's response to the subpoenas, as well as the university's reaction to them.

The television news outlets said they did not broadcast anything about the subpoena because they claimed it wasn't newsworthy.

The compromise

But SIUC's stringent First Amendment posture changed after John Guyon, the university president, returned from an educational conference.

Shortly afterward, SIUC lawyers announced they couldn't win a court fight, stated they wanted to help police find the Halloween lawbreakers, and worked out a compromise with law enforcement officials.

Under the accord, the Jackson County State Attorney's office withdrew its subpoena, while Carbondale city police drew up a confidential list of 39 acts of alleged criminal behavior.

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