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Sue's Views: First Amendment rights come with responsibilites

Many Sun Tribune subscribers were disturbed and offended by the most recent edition of The NorthStar, which was included as an insert in the Nov. 23 issue of the Sun Tribune. For that, I extend my sincere apology. There was never any intention on our part to knowingly or unknowingly offend or hurt the sensibilities of our readers with the inclusion of this publication.  

The NorthStar is produced on a monthly basis by students at the University of Minnesota, Morris. The newspaper bills itself as “An out-standing [sic], in-fitting, green, official, renewable, sustainable, classy (for a change), student publication that people actually talk, and care, about!” Their mission statement is printed as follows: “To progress and secure the principles of individual liberty and classical liberalism by means of alternative student journalism and its activities therein.”

As I have said before, the problem with having a First Amendment guarantee of free speech is that there is no similar guarantee that people will use it wisely. Certainly, The NorthStar has a constitutional right to publish any variety of articles and opinions in the free exchange of ideas. The First Amendment also guarantees a free press, which allows The NorthStar the right to publish as a newspaper and include news, information and opinions without government interference. 

But the rights included in the First Amendment also come with some responsibility, not the least of which is for community newspapers to publish material that is acceptable by community standards. 

When John Geiger, the publisher of The NorthStar, and his associate, Joe Basel, approached me to discuss having their publication inserted in the Sun Tribune, they presented their newspaper as a conservative publication and suggested it would be a welcome change of perspective for the Sun Tribune readers. Because I believe strongly that a community newspaper should include a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints, we discussed the cost and logistics of inserting The NorthStar as an advertisement in the Sun Tribune.   

Under this arrangement, the students are entirely responsible for the creation and printing of The NorthStar as well as the entire cost of being inserted into the Sun Tribune. The staff at the Sun Tribune has no control, nor prior knowledge of the content of the publication. We see it for the first time when it arrives in our newspaper, much the same as the flier for Shopko, Target, or any other advertiser. 

While I appreciate the savvy these students displayed in making this business arrangement, they failed to consider the additional burden created by having a wider and more diverse audience. By distributing their newspaper not just to their fellow students but to the larger community of Morris, The NorthStar then became accountable to public opinion.  

Unlike the Sun Tribune, the publishers of The NorthStar do not rely on subscriptions and advertising to support their publication instead of receiving an allocation of student fees.

I appreciate those readers who took the time to visit with me about this publication, particularly those who were at least as interested in learning how The NorthStar came to be in their newspaper as in expressing their dismay at the content. As I said to them, I will make no effort trying to explain or defend the content of the publication.  

I will emphasize that that the views expressed within their publication do not reflect the opinions of the staff of the Morris Sun Tribune. I encourage those subscribers who shared their opinion of The NorthStar with me to take the time to do the same with its publisher, John Geiger. The only way The NorthStar staff will learn about community norms is if the community lets them know when they have crossed them.

I again apologize for any offense that our readers have suffered.