Gramblinite editor wins national award

The former editor in chief of The Gramblinite, the student newspaper at Grambling State University, has been recognized for his fight against attempts to shut down the paper, being named the winner of the 2007 College Press Freedom Award. Darryl D. Smith of Monroe was cited as the college journalist who most demonstrated outstanding support for the free press rights of students.

“It is a definite honor to receive such a prestigious award,” Smith said. “It was the last thing I expected from this unfortunate incident. I just wanted to fight for our right to print.”

The Gramblinite was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 17 by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert Dixon , who cited “quality assurance” issues, including grammar and spelling errors, plagiarism.

Smith said the move came after Dixon had complained about negative articles that had run had run in the paper the previous two semesters.

Smith contacted the Student Press Law Center and Grambling State University alumni who are working media professionals, who told him the university did not have the legal authority to suspend the newspaper. Smith and the staff decided to go forward with the first issue of the semester, which was slated for publication on Thursday, Jan. 18.

After the issue was published, numerous meetings with Dr. Dixon, then department head Dr. Anita Fleming-Rife and Gramblinite staff and advisers led to measures that included prior review as a condition for publication.

Smith and then managing editor DeEric Henry formulated counter-measures that removed the prior review conditions. And after continued pressure from students and organizations such as College Media Advisers, The Black College Communication Association, Southeast Journalism Conference, and the SPLC, the administration revoked its prior review policy.

“The good thing about the whole incident is that it allowed the newspaper staff and administration to come together and attempt to understand one another,” Smith said. “I can honestly say that our viewpoint of the administration is a lot different than it was before, which is a good thing.”

Mike Hiestand, legal consultant to the SPLC, cited Smith’s “courage and commitment to the cause of press freedom” in his speech presenting the award.

The annual award is sponsored by the SPLC and the Associated Collegiate Press. The announcement of Smith’s award was made recently at the Associated Collegiate Press/College Media Advisers National Convention in Washington, D.C .

“His willingness to stand and fight for what was right paid off,” Hiestand said in an SPLC press release.

“Darryl didn’t just memorize the First Amendment for a history class, he put it to work. We can all learn a very important lesson from that,” Hiestand said

Smith said he had indeed learned a valuable lesson.

“I couldn’t have done this on my own,” he said. “With my staff backing and supporting me, we were able to win our battle with prior review.

“It was a learning experience for all of us,” Smith said.