Why we need the Flat Hat and other student publications

Alex Nakamitsu ’26 is planning on majoring in philosophy. She is Japanese and Swedish and loves the outdoors. Email Alex at aanakamitsu@wm.edu.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

In 1945, then Editor-in-Chief of the Flat Hat Marilyn Kaemmerle wrote an article for the paper advocating for racial integration and equality. She wrote in the context of World War II, denouncing Hitler’s white supremacist ideology. Although these words may seem obvious today, public uproar led to the Board of Visitors threatening to expel her from the College of William and Mary. While this did not happen, she was still fired from the Flat Hat.

Although this was over 70 years ago, the conversation of maintaining independence as a student newspaper remains salient for the Flat Hat. Is there a time when the school’s administration can step in when an article is deemed too controversial? On the contrary, do those who write for the paper need to be mindful of what they write for a paper associated with the College?

Although we live in a time when many controversial topics are frequently circulated in the media, students should maintain the right to start productive dialogues through the medium of student journalism.

Publications such as the Flat Hat acts as a platform for students to voice their opinions on topics that are pertinent to the College’s community. Every college should have a platform where students can have productive conversations, and where students of any background are represented.

The Flat Hat also acts as a means of accountability for the College and its administration. The Flat Hat frequently reports on controversial acts taken by the administration, such as forced hospitalizations and faculty’s concerns with The College. As long as they are well-researched and don’t slander the College, student publications should maintain the right to report on topics that the student body might perceive as unpopular. The administration may not always be transparent with their actions, and the Flat Hat can keep students informed on the state of the College.

This does not mean, however, that any article can be published without any limits. The Flat Hat does draw the line between freedom of speech and misinformation and hate speech. As the Flat Hat’s Opinions Philosophy states in writing, “The Flat Hat will neither tolerate nor publish opinion pieces that rely on hateful, inflammatory, or otherwise unproductive rhetoric.” Articles are also encouraged to be well-researched and go through fact-checking processes before being published.

There is also a designated Standards and Practices editor, or ombudsman, with the Flat Hat. Standards and Practices is an independent branch of the paper that ensures journalistic integrity and ethical practices are upheld. The ombudsman addresses any complaints to the publication as well as makes corrections to articles that may have gotten some facts wrong.

In an environment where local news outlets are on the decline, and much of the national media is deeply politically polarized, small publications such as student papers can be the few places for students to get reliable news about their community.


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