Passing On The College Press

Inconsistent Massachusetts State Police Policy unfairly restricts student journalists

Covering protests is stressful enough for journalists, but when they have to worry about getting arrested themselves, the task becomes even more complicated. The Massachusetts State Police recognize this concern and issue official press passes that protect reporters covering riots or protests from unwarranted arrests. That is, of course, unless they happen to be student reporters. According to the official state policy, reporters for college newspapers are not eligible for this protection. Two weeks ago, the Massachusetts State Police denied press passes to three Boston College (BC) journalists, citing their lack of a paycheck as the reason for rejecting their request.

According to Sean McLaughlin, associate news editor at the Boston College Heights, the BC students’ requests for press passes were initially approved, even after making it clear that they were working for a college newspaper in their applications. Once the student reporters showed up at the station to have their press pass pictures taken, however, the public affairs office revoked their authorization. “It is my belief and the belief of the editors that they were discriminated due to being college students,” McLaughlin wrote in an e-mail.

The official policy of the Massachusetts State Police requires reporters to be “regularly employed” by a recognized news source. Under this provision, reporters must be “devoting a significant portion of employment time to police news for Daily Newspapers, Television Stations or Networks, Radio Stations, News Magazines, or News Gathering Agency.”

The state should rescind this arcane restriction and not discriminate against college-aged journalists. College papers might not “employ” their reporters with monetary compensation, but they can certainly be just as hard working and dedicated as full-time reporters at other media sources, working 40 hours or more a week for their student newspaper. It is wrong of the Massachusetts State Police to arbitrarily discriminate between legitimate publications just because some are student-run and some are run by full-time employees.

In order to produce credible stories, reporters need full and unlimited access to the event they are covering. Last year student reporters from George Washington University and the University of Maryland were arrested while covering protests in Washington, D.C., because they did not have viable press passes. At the same event, journalists from The Washington Post showed the appropriate passes and were immediately released. By denying college newspapers the same media protection as other news sources, the policy is undermining the ability of college papers to produce the same quality of reporting. Since college papers often provide news coverage on protests and police response for their local area, this overly restrictive policy hinders their ability to maintain reliability in these stories.

College newspapers need—and deserve—the same protection as other news outlets when they are covering events. It is the only way they will be able to stay on the cutting edge of the news without being undermined by the threat of an arrest. That way student reporters can spend more time worrying about what should really be on their minds: getting the story.