An ideological struggle
Small paper, community fight ‘censorship’
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 00:03
An edgy Easton newspaper may now be safe from possible censorship.
Funding for The West Word, a newspaper serving Easton’s West Ward, was in jeopardy after the paper published a story critical of Lafayette last April.
The paper is funded by the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership (WWNP) and the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV).
West Word’s Managing Editor Ghen Dennis said the paper would continue to print even without the support of the WWNP and the CACLV.
“The West Word belongs to the editorial committee and the people who run it,” Dennis said. “If they want to cut our funding in the middle of the cycle because of the content, I find that ideologically problematic.”
But can the grantors’ behavior be called censorship? Yes, Dennis said.
“I think that it is censorship in the sense that they want to control content.”
Mayor Sal Panto, who serves as chairman of the WWNP steering committee, said he did not suggest the paper be defunded. “I did raise some concern about the type of articles.”
One such article was a critique of the school’s 2011 Art of Urban Environments Festival. Reporter Julie Zando lambasted Lafayette’s misuse of a $200,000 NEA grant.
“With that money comes the expectation that the funded project will meet the highest standards of excellence, innovation, and public engagement,” Zando wrote. “The Art of Urban Environments Festival did not come close to those standards.”
Panto thought the story was too opinionated.
“There had to be some part of the festival that was good,” Panto continued. “I don’t condemn people for trying to make their community better and I think that’s the only part that upset me. I felt the article was too one-sided.”
College officials, though unhappy with the story, did not pursue the matter.
“I don’t think we responded. We wrung our hands in frustration over it,” Williams Center for the Arts Director Ellis Finger said. “We regarded it as an opinion.”
CACLV Director Alan Jennings recommended the paper’s funding be cut because it wasn’t emphasizing enough of the good being done in the West Ward, The Express Times reported.
Director of Landis Community Outreach Center Bonnie Winfield, the lone college representative on WWNP’s steering committee, was surprised by Jennings and Panto’s reactions.
“The woman who wrote that was clear that it was her opinion,” she said.
“This issue is just a thorn,” Winfield added. “We need to go beyond it—not dismiss it—but work it out and continue to do good work in the community.”
The issue is sure to come up at the next steering committee meeting in May, Winfield said. But, according to Dennis, “there is presently no agenda item to put forward a vote discontinuing funding for The West Word at that meeting.”
“Too much pressure from community feedback,” Dennis said.