Two student journalists at Grambling State University in Louisiana were punished over the weekend for how they've used their roles with the student newspaper relative to an ongoing controversy involving the public institution's football program.
By Tuesday both students had had their punishments rescinded.
David Lankster Sr. claims he was fired from his job as the online editor of the historically black university's student newspaper for tweeting photos of the school's athletic facilities, which have been at the center of a heated controversy. The football team embarked on a boycott this weekend to protest the state of the facilities as well as the firing of its head coach, among other grievances.
Lankster told allDigitocracy and radio host Roland Martin that he was canned for sending several tweets from The Gramblinite's Twitter account, including photos of the "filth" that had upset GSU's football players:
LOOK: Here is Brown Hall, where a restroom roof collapsed leaving pipes exposed. Reports made, yet no repairs. pic.twitter.com/WJBbvUw0sb
— The Gramblinite (@TheGramblinite) October 19, 2013
Lankster suggested to allDigitocracy that Grambling spokesman Will Sutton might've been involved in the firing. Sutton has publicly criticized the Gramblinite's reporting on Twitter, and more specifically the reporting that Lankster has identified as his:
@TheGramblinite Are you serious? "Unidentified"? Really? Step up and be identified and stop hiding, or don't use them as sources.
— willsutton (@willsutton) October 17, 2013
In response to a tweet, which has since been deleted, sent from the Gramblinite account stating, "Obviously the administration doesn't care about the football team...and apparently the players have stopped ACTING like they care," Sutton wrote:
@TheGramblinite What?! You've got to be kidding. Is this REPORTING? Is this supposed to be JOURNALISM? Maybe someone needs a lesson.
— willsutton (@willsutton) October 17, 2013
But Sutton told media website Poynter that he had no communication with the newspaper's adviser, and only learned of the firing after it was done. Sutton declined to comment to The Huffington Post on Tuesday.
Lankster's termination letter from publication director Wanda Peters charged him with being "unprofessional" on Twitter, according to the Shreveport Times.
But as of Tuesday Lankster had been reinstated after intervention by the administration. He said, however, that he doesn't expect to return to the paper, according to website The Town Talk.
The site reported that President Frank Pogue cited "professional and ethical" reasons for punishing the journalists, but added, "We don’t chase after people to punish people."
In addition to Lankster's termination, opinion editor Kimberly Monroe had been suspended for two weeks from working on the student paper due to her involvement in organizing a rally that drew national attention.
Monroe received an email with the subject line "Unprofessional behavior" from publication director Peters, who is also a professor in the school's mass communication department:
As a member of The Gramblinite, you should not have become involved in a public rally, as you did yesterday. I know Mass Communication was not your undergraduate major so you missed the classroom instruction regarding conflict of interest. But the Code of Ethics that you must read and sign each semester as part of your Gramblinite application outlines certain behaviors that are expected of you. Item No. 4 of the Code reads:
"We report the news without regard for our own interests, mindful of the need to disclose potential conflicts. We avoid involvement in campus events, politics, demonstrations and social causes that would cause a conflict of interest, or the appearance of such conflict."
Monroe told the Shreveport Times her suspension was overturned Monday.
Peters did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment from HuffPost.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, expressed concern about how the situation has been handled by administrators and faculty members.
"It's fine for Mr. Sutton or Ms. Peters to express a strong opinion about the adequacy of the journalists' sourcing -- that's totally fair -- but the First Amendment means their input has to stop with just advice," LoMonte told the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. "Public university employees can't use their governmental authority to punish journalists for their choice of editorial content, period."