I’d like to know co-bloggers’ and readers’ views of the recent dust-up at East Carolina University. The student newspaper, the East Carolinian, published photos, including a full-frontal shot, of a 21-year-old male streaker who ran across the football field in November.
The university has now fired the adviser to the paper.
I don’t think this is a free-speech issue — exactly. No one has tried to prosecute or harass the students who made the decision. But it is an educational issue.
It is generally understood in journalism that serious publications do not publish full-frontal nudity. This may be appropriate or it may be an unnecessary vestige of Puritanism, but it is a tradition — in some ways similar to the widely accepted prohibition against showing someone being killed.
Paul Isom, the fired adviser, indicated to the Raleigh News and Observer that he was not deeply involved in the decision: “As the adviser I try to make sure they have the resources they need to make the best decisions they can, and then step out of the way and allow them to make those decisions.” He went on to say (and I think he’s right) that if he had told the students not to publish the photos, he’d be acting illegally in preventing the exercise of their First Amendment rights.
On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to have tried to persuade the students not to use the photos as they did. (If you want to see the photos, you can find them through Google, but if you enlarge them, a black box will block details.)
Based on what I have read, I think the adviser should have made the journalistic convention plainer to the students and persuaded them not to publish the photos. On the other hand, it’s not clear that this is a firing offense. My guess is that if he’d had tenure, it wouldn’t be.