The Washington Post interviewed Student Press Law Center’s Frank LoMonte about prank issues in college newspapers.
Last week, newspapers like George Washington University’s The Hatchet ran spoof issues around April Fool’s Day, according to the Post. LoMonte advised student journalists not to write spoof issues while or after drinking, a possible scenario.
“I’d personally favor Breathalyzer locks on newsroom computers. Seriously, it’s not a good idea to make any type of legally significant decision, including publishing, under the influence and in haste. In the unlikely (and it IS unlikely) event of a lawsuit, that would make for an uncomfortable explanation. It could help establish that the story was prepared negligently.”
LoMonte also addressed the status of public figures. While the president and some sports coaches may be public figures, “as to anyone else, it’s a crap-shoot,” according to LoMonte. For example, some high-profile student government officials or athletes may be considered limited public figures. Even then, LoMonte recommended against making fun of ” named students, except perhaps for ridicule about the conduct of their official behavior or their on-field behavior.”
See iMediaEthics’ stories about the University of California-San Diego’s student humor publication The Koala, which may be sued for its doctored photo and negative story about a student, here.