In which a presentation about law was actually really illuminating

by Hannah Silvers

NEW YORK CITY — It’s Day One of the 2016 CMA conference, and I started off my day with a 9 a.m. session about what information is public record and should therefore be provided to student journalists when requested.

Why this one? I’m making it a point to attend sessions on topics I don’t know a lot about, and I thought it would be a good idea to get a better understanding of how we can get what information we can.

I learned a lot — Frank LoMonte of the Student Press Law Center is a wonderfully articulate and exciting speaker — but it wasn’t until I asked a question and introduced myself as an Elon student that I realized the close ties Elon student media has with this topic.

Earlier in his presentation, LoMonte had explained that laws in four states compel private institutions to comply to the same public records laws as public institutions. North Carolina is on that list, and The Pendulum obviously owes its ability to run a weekly crime report on the extras page to that law.

But when LoMonte realized I was from Elon, he said Elon University was the test case that helped the SPLC pass that law.

I did some Googling and found the case from 2010. Apparently, a reporter for ELN’s broadcast predecessor, Phoenix14, had been denied access to a full and detailed crime report by campus police. He appealed the case through several levels of courts and eventually, with the help of the SPLC and other professional media organizations, wound up securing an overruling by the N.C. Supreme Court.

The Pendulum contributed its opinion to the case in an editorial I was able to find on Issuu, and I found an expanded editorial/story in the archives of our website by following a link from Colin’s post on E-Net. (Side note: Al Drago, who was photo editor at the time, shot the featured photo, and I saw him present in his 10 a.m. session later this morning. Worlds collide.)

This is a huge story I didn’t know about before somewhat arbitrarily deciding to attend the “Cracking Campus Crime” session this morning — and that made me a little sad. Especially after listening to LoMonte speak, I started thinking about the stories we tell about the history of our organization that get passed down through generations of staffs.

The case was decided and the law passed years before my time, and before the time of every current Pendulum staff member, but I don’t think that excuses me or anyone else from not knowing about this. I think this case and its implications for student media are really important to remember.

This law, as LoMonte explained, allows students to be aware of the violent criminal record of other students who might be staying just down the hall from them. And it allows student media to keep its audience informed and, therefore, safe. And Elon student media was the champion of it. Which is aMAYzing.

I could talk all day about this session — there were lots of incredible takeaways I don’t have space for here — so if anyone would like to know more or just discuss a topic I just realized I’m interested in, reach out!

In the meantime, Courtney and I will keep having a #GTinNYC!

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