Matter Chatter

Below the Fold

I’m showing my age by giving attention to a topic related to content published “above the fold.” While conceptually the fold will always exist, the practicality of such a position isn’t as relevant as it once was. (You can guess where the fold is located when reading from www.nytimes.com but it’s not nearly as impactful, obviously.)

However, positioning related to the fold is still a priority for all media outlets delivering hard copy editions of their publications daily, weekly or with any regularity.  One such publication is the Collegian, the weekly newspaper of LaSalle University in Philadelphia. Presumably, the editorial staff of the Collegian works hard to publish timely articles and to position itself as a credible resource for its readers. And, appropriately so, this group was frustrated when they were asked by university administration to refrain from publishing a potentially embarrassing story about a business professor at the University who held an off-campus symposium using exotic dancers to demonstrate a point. The story was ready to go to print, but the administration asked the staff of the Collegian to wait until the University’s investigation of the incident was completed before it was published.

After seeking and being denied permission to run the delayed story prominently at the top of the front page, the editorial staff published their story below the fold.  However, the top half of the front page was blank except for the words: See below the fold. As journalists, the college paper’s staff felt they had to make a statement. It followed a similar, accurate story (as well as less accurate accounts) being published in other local media sources, and the Collegian editorial staff probably felt it had been relegated to the role of chasing ambulances through the streets of Philadelphia.

A polite editorial was published by the staff soon after their story properly explained their hamstrung position. The paper is funded by the university and despite its best efforts to serve as a resource, the staff felt the need to adhere to the requests of those who hold the purse strings. (Those are my words, but that’s the obvious position.)

I don’t know David Vella, the 20-year old junior who is the executive editor of the Collegian. Nor do I know Luke Harold, the student assigned to this story when the editors received their tip. I do know, however, that they made a valuable point to the University’s administration when they ran the story below the fold.  And, I’m certain that both of these guys soon will be writing breaking news stories that appear high-up on some publication’s front page.

Did they do more or less than they should have in circumventing the administration’s wishes? And is journalistic freedom something that should merely be taught at college and not allowed at college newspapers?