Student Reporters Deny College’s Media Relations Request

Publication advisors claim that accepting the request would limit the free flow of information to the student body.


On Feb. 24, Leandre Waldo, director of Client and Media Relations for Champlain College, sent an email to Haley Seymour, student editor-in-chief of the Crossover. Waldo asked that any requests for interviews with Champlain staff or faculty for the Crossover be directed through her. She sent similar emails to Erik Shonstrom and Cassie Melchior, respectively the faculty advisor and the editor-in-chief of the Burly Beaver; and Susan Greenberg, an adjunct professor who teaches Fundamentals of Journalism in the Professional Writing Program. 

The staff of the Burly Beaver reacted to news of the request with “shock” and “anger,” says Shonstrom. The reaction of the Crossover staff was similar. 

Warren Baker, the Crossover’s advisor, says the email was, “An unacceptable request that we won’t honor, because as a news organization we can’t have anyone deciding – beyond the reporter – who gets what information we receive, and what information we wouldn’t get because an outside party wants to restrict that flow of information.

“Reporters go right to their subjects, that’s how it works,” Baker, who has taught journalism and advised student news publications at Champlain for 16 years, continues. 

Shonstrom had a similar response. He says, “Reporters have the right – I’d argue the responsibility – to ask questions of whomever they want. Folks always have the chance to not offer comments or ignore reporters.”

Since Champlain is a private business, it is completely legal to, at the college’s discretion, control the flow of information by having requests routed through one person. However, Baker and Shonstrom, as well as the staff members of their respective publications, disagree with what Waldo asked for on principle. Baker says that the request was, “[Champlain] trying to predetermine what information gets out there and what information doesn’t get out there. What would be lost is the free and open access of information from one party to another.” 

In Waldo’s initial email, she stated that complying with the request would ensure accuracy and timeliness, as well as efficiency. 

Student publications disagree. Baker says, “The reasoning is specious, to me. The fact that she wants to have consistency in college responses isn’t a reason at all for her request for so-called efficiency, because if, in her mind, it would be more efficient for her to deliver a response to a question asked, that would almost necessarily have to differ from what the person who was initially requested to sit for the interview would have. So you’re not going to get an accurate representation of the situation that the answer to the question would have revealed.”

However, Waldo, when asked for a follow-up comment for this piece, wrote, “The intention of the request that I sent to the students[sic] editors was intended to assist the reporters, rather than create barriers to a free press.” She emphasized that she wanted to have student reporters follow the same procedures that the college asks external reporters to follow.

Former Champlain  President David Finney is now managing the college’s day-to-day business while its current president, Benjamin Akande, focuses on creating a long-term plan.

Finney corroborated Waldo’s statement, commenting, “The thinking was that if students are engaging in journalism we should, in keeping with Champlain’s traditional mission, treat them as working professionals. So, having journalists work through our Public Relations operation exactly matches what we do for paid professional journalists. It’s about trying to create a realistic educational experience.”

Waldo also wrote that she had asked some communications personnel at other colleges what their protocols were for internal interview requests. She reported that, “All the colleges that replied indicated that they have established a central media contact, and that the media (external and internal) by and large initiate all requests through that individual or department. Additionally, most have written policies requiring that faculty and staff are expected to pass any direct requests on to that same office before responding to any direct inquiries.”

Despite these arguments, the Crossover and the Burly Beaver have both told Waldo they will not comply with the request and will still reach out directly to interviewees. Baker declares, “Answers can’t be vetted. Reporters can’t have their answers vetted by any other party,” stating that the concept runs counter to the free flow of information. 

Waldo is still hopeful an agreement can be reached. She wrote, “I look forward to continuing the conversation of how [publications and the Media Relations office] can work together.”

However, at the time of this writing, both the Burly Beaver and the Crossover haven’t heard anything back from Waldo or her office. As of now, both publications will, in Shonstrom’s words, “Double down and keep reporting, keep writing, and keep publishing.”


Editor’s Note: An editorial based on these events: “Student Press Freedoms and What Champlain Needs To Change.”