School accuses student reporter of violating policy for doing her job

A student reporter is under fire at Loyola University for doing her job.

A report from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression explains student reporter Kloe Witt was accused of falsification or misuse of school records and unauthorized recording after her efforts to report on an incident in which another student was arrested by New Orleans police on campus.

FIRE reports a campus proceedinging found Witt not responsible for the records charges, but responsible for “unauthorized” recording and she is appealing.

The dispute stems from the arrest of the student, to which Witt “rushed to cover” for the Maroon, the student newspaper.

“As part of her reporting and at the invitation of the campus police department, Witt headed to the station after hours to interview an officer and get some documentation,” FIRE reported. Her story appeared in the publication that day.

Then two weeks later she was charged by the school with the two violations.

“Loyola alleged that when Witt recorded her interview with an officer — with her phone in plain sight with a recording app open — she violated a university policy that prohibits recordings without consent in situations in which those recorded have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” FIRE said. The records charge came from documentation she got from the officer.

“Loyola cannot expect the campus community to take these commitments seriously when the university charges a student journalist for normal newsgathering activities like simply receiving documents from an official source,” FIRE reported.

“Make no mistake about it: Finding Witt responsible for what is a normal newsgathering activity — non-secretive recording of an interview — suppresses freedom of the press.”

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The rights organization said it wrote a memo for Witt to use in her appeal, “detailing the dangers of a purportedly speech-protective university punishing a student journalist in this way.”

It explains that it is “plainly unreasonably” for participants to expect privacy when they are being interviewed by a journalist.

A ban on recording, it explained, applies “to only private conversations, that is, in which one has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

FIRE noted, “Loyola is a private university not bound by the First Amendment, but its policies explicitly promise both free expression generally, and freedom of the press, specifically.”

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