FOIA: The North Wind staff speaks up

North Wind Staff

Individual perspectives from NW editors

Ray Bressette: “Not every official at NMU is handling similar situations like this. When I requested public documents from our athletic director Forrest Karr and mentioned that we would go through the FOIA process if the documents were not given out, he had me in his office the next morning bringing me step by step through every inch of the documents. He told me that they are all public documents for anyone to see, and there’s nothing to hide. Karr was more than happy to assist me with any help I needed for these documents, and it’s disappointing that not everyone who holds power at NMU can feel this way.”

Andy Frakes: “I’m all about diplomacy and finding common ground, but I’m also far too pragmatic and black-and-white in how I handle things to see virtue in how the main FOIA situation is being handled. These events have changed my perspective. Regardless of where one stands, if one is capable of taking a step back the image comes into focus to reveal that, indeed, NMU as an administration is slighting NMU as a student body, and The North Wind as a part of that body. We’re just writing about it.”

Savanna Hennig: “This is a story that gathered attention from so many places. Granted, it’s become a huge story about the fight for amendment rights and speech in journalism. The law is on our side, along with so many North Wind supporters (old and new). In the end, this FOIA story has made history that this staff can be proud of. How long before the FOIA related stories burn out, I’m not sure. This is the world of investigative journalism. We are not reporting lies. We are your fellow students at NMU, not some monsters seeking to destroy your school.”

Mike Klarin: “It’s been such a great learning experience, and also an amazing confidence builder for everyone involved. If I ever had any doubts about what we’re doing, I would just remember the majority of people I’ve spoken to are largely in favor of what we’re doing. It’s refreshing to hear good feedback, and makes me love what I do that much more.”

Patrick Pearson: “When I undertook the job as news editor, I honestly felt a little uncertain and disinterested in what the North Wind was doing with this series of stories. That is, until I began seeing the way in which the university acted in response to our requests to acquire standard public documents. As a result of this, I began seeing established professional journalists and editors in the state of Michigan start showing their support, and we have lawyers offering us their services free of charge because they believe in our cause. What are we going to find when we unravel the heavily redacted emails we received? That’s uncertain, but what is certain is they are clearly hiding something from us all. Until that time comes we’ll have to keep pushing, and continue doing level-headed journalism.”

Anthony Viola: “I’ve had to explain the battle ad nauseum to almost everyone I know. When the Starbucks stories ran in Oct./Nov., a reporter and then-news editor Emma Finkbeiner were intimidated to stop writing stories which cast the university in a bad light. They were told the funding for the paper could be cut, and on a more personal note, faculty would be hesitant to write letters of recommendation. This type of intimidation is a form of censorship. We are an independent student newspaper, independent from the administration and what they want us to write. If the administration is participating in unethical business practices, we can be your source to find out. If the administration censors the media, they will be able to get away with anything they want, and with your money.  The media was protected by the founders of this country so it could be the checks and balances system on the government.”

Cheryl Reed: “I see this FOIA fight as a battle for the soul of this campus. Who are we? Is this a campus where administrators hide behind blacked out text because they’re embarrassed about what they’ve said behind ‘closed doors’ about their students? Is this a campus where students stop being passive and insist they have a right to see who is governing them and how?  What’s interesting is that everyone who has the right of privacy in this case has waived it. But the administrators, who have no right to privacy in their capacity as administrators, are clinging to this idea that they have the right to privacy when they are discussing students and the students’ newspaper. For me, it comes down to administrative transparency, and right now it’s as transparent as a big black box.”

Emma Finkbeiner: “This is not a smear campaign, we are not picking on the university or intentionally trying to make it look bad. We are writing the truth about a battle for freedom of the press because that is the only power we have as students. The bottom line is this: Documents don’t lie, people do, and it’s our job to cover it as journalists.”

Michael Williams: “This is not a fight to say what we want—this is to foster and ensure a transparent campus culture. If certain forces within Cohodas Hall do not appreciate our content, that means that, as a news outlet, we are doing our job. The point of news media is to hold the powerful accountable—everything else is advertising (and we do a fair share of free advertising for NMU). If there were any other NMU organization undergoing a free speech battle with administration, we would cover the issue as diligently as we have had to cover our own.”

Kayla McLane: “I was hired onto the North Wind staff in December 2014, directly in the middle of the FOIA stories. I was confused. What is FOIA? Why does this issue keep coming up during Thursday night meetings? This whole situation was very complicated and troubling for me. What did I just sign up for? While this may seem to the student body a meaningless fight between the administration and the paper, it is much more than that. This is a fight for the transparency of a government-funded university. This is your fight too. As the student body, I encourage you to care about this fight, as it is a battle for the truth.”