Fairport-E.Rochester Post
  • Gates native wins First Amendment Award

  • A Gates resident who gained the attention of his university and regionally has won the prestigious First Amendment Award by the Society of Professional Journalists.

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  • A Gates resident who gained the attention of his university and regionally has won the prestigious First Amendment Award by the Society of Professional Journalists.
    William Matthias, a senior at The College at Brockport, State University of New York, is the recipient of the Society of Professional Journalist’s Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award.
    He was recognized during the joint Society of Professional Journalists and Radio Television Digital News Association Excellence in Journalism 2011 conference, Sept. 25 to 27, in New Orleans.
    “It is truly a great feeling to know that the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized my dedication to The Stylus and to protecting the principles of journalism through the First Amendment,” Matthias said. “I am honored to have won this award. I cannot express the level of gratitude I have for the support I received from The Stylus staff and the College faculty. This would not have been possible without them.”
    Matthias was recognized for using the power of the student press to confront members of Brockport’s Student Government, who he says violated the student newspaper’s First Amendment rights. After Matthias issued the accusations in a Feb. 2 column, he received a letter from the student government’s attorney demanding that he retract the column and resign as editor of The Stylus, Brockport’s weekly paper.
    Matthias consulted with the SPLC and a few different attorneys before refusing to do so.
    Matthias said that the battle for the records was between him and SUNY and “unfortunately, the law was not upheld.”
    “Bill is the kind of journalism student that teachers are lucky to get once in a lifetime,” said Marsha Ducey, a communication professor at Brockport and faculty adviser to The Stylus. “He wants to be the watchdog and hold those in power accountable for their actions. He thinks long and hard about the ethics of his actions, questions and stories.”
    Matthias, who is expected to graduate this school year, will serve as staff photographer and page designer for The Stylus.
    We asked Matthias for more about his experience in his own words:
    When did you first realize you wanted to pursue journalism as a career choice?
    I was initially interested in creative writing, but I kind of fell in love with journalism while taking Journalism 101 at Monroe Community College with Doug Mandelaro. I realized there was room within journalism to be creative, particularly with feature writing. Then, I found my true calling (forgive the cliché) when I started pursuing investigative stories at The Stylus. There's nothing like the chase of a good story. Also, it's great to know that I can serve the public's interest, and potentially bring about change for the better, while doing what I love to do.
    Page 2 of 3 - With no other consistent coverage of Brockport by local news media, what role has The Stylus taken in the community and how important is it that the newspaper is able to do its job?
    The Stylus is the only Brockport-exclusive newspaper. Suburban News does what it can to cover the area, but you can tell it's resources are spread thin. Also, the village is considerably far from the major local news outlets. Therefore, Brockport doesn't always get the coverage that it merits. The Stylus plays an invaluable role in providing residents with the facts they need to develop informed opinions about important issues within the village and about their elected officials. It's tough sometimes, though, because The Stylus is a student newspaper first and foremost, so we need to cater our content to that particular demographic, so village issues, which are vast and complex, often take a back seat to stories with student interest. Nonetheless, we often cover stories within the village that other newspapers do not, or take an entirely different angle. As the former village beat reporter, I can tell you that residents have expressed their gratitude for The Stylus reporting the facts that have helped them understand current issues and events in Brockport. I think the village would suffer to a certain extent without The Stylus, but of course I have a biased opinion.
    How does The Stylus operate?
    The Stylus is run by students. The adviser advises. She contributes by providing her professional opinion and critiquing the newspaper, but her participation stops there. The only non-student who works for The Stylus is the business manager, who handles on-campus advertisements, invoicing and ordering supplies. The editor-in-chief, however, oversees the business department and is responsible for filling this position and ensuring that the job gets done.
    What is the student government's role in how The Stylus operates? What should its role be?
    BSG decides how student's mandatory fee money is allocated. They decide on priority services, including The Stylus, before everything else. Everything else is kind of tricky. The Stylus is required to follow the Club manual (though I have debated this fact because it is not in writing anywhere), which does dictate our actions to a large extent, but does not influence content in anyway. We are also required to follow our charter, which is approved by BSG.
    Me and a few other students have explored the idea of pursuing a separation of student media money from the rest of the mandatory fee money. This would be a "student media fee" and there would be an autonomous committee of media and business professionals and students who would decide how the money would be distributed between the TV station, the radio station and the newspaper. This, in my opinion, is how things should be done. Think about it, the organization we are supposed to be watch dogs off has control over the money that we are allotted. As a journalist, I'm sure you can see the problems inherent in this system. Though if your looking for quote, I can elaborate.
    Page 3 of 3 - What did you think when you were asked to retract your column and resign?
    It was a bit unnerving, but I knew I did my job as a journalist and was protected by the law. Additionally, I knew that BSG did not have the authority to remove me from my position (that can only be done internally per our charter). I was concerned about the content of the column, so I consulted The Stylus adviser Marsha Ducey for professional advice and her thoughts were consistent with mine. Furthermore, I spoke to attorney advocate Adam Goldstein from SPJ before writing the column to get my facts, as they pertain to the law, straight.
    Of the whole process with the student government, was there anything that surprised or shocked you?
    Yes. How deceptively the executive officers of BSG acted, and also how they refused to follow the advice of experienced college employees. They deceived not only Brockport students, but also members of the Village's Board of Trustees (again, I can elaborate if need be).
    Would you have changed anything you did in relation to the process with the student government?
    No. I always sought input from the Stylus staff and The Stylus adviser before making any major decisions because I was, and still am, a student with a lot to learn.
    I always did the right thing by The Stylus and by the students who pay for a student newspaper.
    What advice do you have for other student reporters/editors who face similar stumbling blocks?
    Be true to yourself, the newspaper, the students and your future profession. Don't let an executive position go to your head; always seek advice when making major decisions or covering big stories. Major decisions may be up to you, but they can affect everyone working on staff, the newspaper itself, and also the subjects of your stories. Do not take that fact lightly. Always proceed with caution and cover all your bases no matter how much work that requires. If you do all of these things, you'll have nothing to worry about except becoming a better reporter or editor.
    Also, don't dwell on your mistakes. They will happen no matter how hard you try to avoid them. Make them now so you don't have to later. Becoming a good reporter is an arduous learning process, but if it's what you love to do, it'll all be worth it in the end.
    Last but not least, have fun, even as the pressure sets in and production day reaches its sixteenth hour. Treasure the time you have at your student newspaper and the opportunities it provides you. It's a wonderful learning experience and you'll make some relationships you won't soon forget.

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