PHOENIX — Arizona State University administrators are calling for a more specific content policy for student journalists after a recent State Press Magazine cover included a photo of a woman's bare breast with a pierced nipple.
The call for policy reform followed threats from administrators to withdraw funding from student-run publications and removal from their campus offices.
"I was very angry that they would threaten us with that," State Press Editor Cameron Eickmeyer said on Nov. 19.
The Oct. 7 cover story, headlined "Sensual Steel," was about the popularity of body-piercing among students and how they enhance college students' sex lives.
The controversy began with a complaint from one of ASU's biggest donors, Ira Fulton, who called ASU President Michael Crow and left a message asking how the university could allow something like that to be published, according to e-mails obtained by the Associated Press.
Crow responded by ordering Vice President of Student Affairs Juan Gonzalez to contact The State Press.
"Tell them our funding will be suspended ASAP if not corrected," Crow said in an Oct. 8 e-mail to Gonzalez.
Gonzalez responded by holding a meeting with State Press editors and advisers and threatening to withdraw money.
"I have said to them that if I have to return and have another similar conversation with them, that the next conversation will be on how to stop ASU support," Gonzalez said in an e-mail to Crow.
"I have clearly put them on notice that one more occurrence will result in immediate severance of ASU support," the e-mail said. "After the discussion, they understand the intense relationship and dependancy they have with the university."
Crow replied: "Seems like the right tone."
A spokeswoman for Crow referred questions to Virgil Renzulli, the vice president for public affairs. Gonzalez did not return a message or e-mail seeking comment for this story.
"This incident came about from an extremely narrow journalistic view," Renzulli said. "It's a question of standards, not a question of censorship."
A spokesman for Fulton declined to comment.
While editorially independent, the student-run State Press works out of a rent-free office on campus and about 10% of its operating budget comes from the university, Eickmeyer said.
Eickmeyer said the student newspaper has had run-ins with the administration before.
Student journalists do have access to a faculty adviser but ultimately make their own decisions about content, said Steve Doig, interim director of ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
"There is a natural tension between an administration and the media that cover it," said Doig.
Renzulli said the administration isn't looking to censor the paper but wants to see a more clearly defined content policy than the one the students are using.
Eickmeyer said the students generally use the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. The code includes a section that says a journalist should "show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity."
Eickmeyer defended the use of the photo, saying it was needed to accurately illustrate the story.
"We think that there may be guidelines more appropriate for student journalists than the ones for other news organizations," Renzulli said.
The university administration, faculty and State Press editors plan to meet next month to discuss whether there's a need for a more specific content policy.