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FREE PRESS IS FOR ALL, NOT JUST A SELECT FEW

I am a high school journalism teacher. I teach two journalism classes and advise the school newspaper staff, in addition to teaching four English classes. My newspaper job is thankless. It pays little and I am often at the mercy of teenagers who don't use spell check, feel deadlines are arbitrary and inject opinion into every sentence. Coerced into the job years ago when the newspaper adviser left for greener pastures, I have come to love it.

I learned everything I know about journalism from two places: the Western New York School Press Association and St. Bonaventure Media Days. Both groups offer yearly workshops for high school journalists and teachers, where presenters from local print media share experience and wisdom.

I was introduced to PageMaker, the ultimate computer program for newspaper layout, at a WNYSPA workshop, and learned about sports writing from former News sports reporter Vic Carucci at another.

Last September, Dan Herbeck, co-author of a book on Timothy McVeigh, advised me on how to combat administration censorship. And I was initially inspired at a WNYSPA Press Day by a keynote speech on the power and responsibility of journalists given by Lee Coppola, dean of the school of journalism at St. Bonaventure University.

So I was surprised by Coppola's comments in a recent News story. He responded to questions about an incident on his campus where students cut out an article they found offensive from about 1,000 Bona Venture front pages before the papers were distributed. Coppola believed the students were wrong.

But in his remarks, he referred to another incident at Brown University, where he believed students were justified in destroying copies of their college paper because they were offended by an advertisement.

The advertisement, paid for by conservative David Horowitz, listed 10 reasons why paying reparations to black Americans for slavery would be a bad idea. Many of Horowitz's reasons are offensive to liberals, and some students tried to stop the reasons from reaching their intended audience. Yet Coppola thought this was appropriate.

I thought a free press was free for everyone, not just those who shared your point of view. The Bonaventure students who snipped an offending article had understandable reasons for their actions - they wished to spare a grieving friend notoriety. The students who trashed issues of the Brown Daily Herald felt they were protesting a harmful and divisive ad that did not represent their school's position.

Both groups were wrong. The press has a responsibility, as Coppola eloquently confirmed in his keynote address to high school journalists, to tell the truth, to cover events that impact the lives of their readers and to present all sides of issues. A newspaper should give readers information and allow them to make their own decisions on morality.

Promoting a free and informed dialogue is the province of newspapers, especially university newspapers. Universities should be advocating free and informed discussion, not tearing the fabric of free speech.

Let Horowitz's ad run, let sensitive stories be printed. Readers should respond to unfeeling stories and offensive ads by writing letters to the editor, sending e-mails and standing up for what they believe by signing their names. Anonymous editing with scissors or nameless mobs throwing papers away comes too near to book burning for comfort.

It is not the business of newspapers, or mobs, to decide what we should think and feel. That is manipulation. It's wrong at Bonaventure. And it's wrong at Brown.

BARBARA SZUDZIK lives in Derby.

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