Editor-in-Chief suspended

Jessie Baumann

Dr. Gary Biller, Western Illinois University’s Vice President of Student Services, suspended Nicholas Stewart, the editor-in-chief of the Western Courier from his duties at the paper on Thursday.

 In a letter to Stewart, Biller said Stewart had been issued a paid interim suspension banning him from the Courier until the matter is resolved in a student judicial hearing.

 The suspension came about after Stewart videotaped a brawl on the night of Dec. 12, 2014 that broke out in front of the University Union. The authorities eventually used pepper spray to break up the crowds.

 This video was posted on the Western Courier’s website and was later sold by Stewart to other news and broadcasting stations. He was then contacted by news and broadcasting stations wanting to buy copies of his video.

 “In our meeting of Dec. 15, 2014, you admitted to receiving personal compensation for a video that was sold with the banner of Western Courier displayed,” Biller said in his letter. “To date, I can find no record of compensation to the University or the Western Courier.”

 Stewart said he happened upon the fighting after hearing about it on his police scanner. As events progressed, he began filming with his personal video equipment.

 He said he posted the video on YouTube and embedded the video on the Courier’s web site the evening of the fighting.

 After a couple days, Stewart was contacted via email and was informed that he was responsible for giving the university the money that he had received from selling the video.

 Stewart gave a brief account of what occurred on the night of the fights. 

 “I was at my apartment at the time and had heard the scanner go off reporting a large fight in the University Union,” Stewart said. “So, I responded there, basically, to cover the story. They never specifically noted for me to leave because I was standing on the sidewalk, not in the street, and I also wasn’t taking part in the fighting that was taking place. So, the police never mentioned to me in any way to leave.”

 Later, the university reached out to Stewart asking him to come to a meeting about his video.

“I was contacted, originally, through Biller’s secretary sending me an email the following Monday asking if I could come in for a meeting,” Stewart said. “We had that whole meeting discussing the money should be the university’s. They said they would be in contact with me. I sent to them a sheet of information, basically how everything that I did that night was legal and that I didn’t break any code of conduct.

“They said, ‘Thank you, we’ll get back to you,’ and they never did,” Stewart said. “It has been an entire month, and they never got in touch with me or asked me anything else about the money. Then, suddenly they came up and were like, ‘we don’t have any record of you sending the money, so you’re suspended.’ At no point did they actually ask me to give them the money. 

“They simply said, ‘We think this. Defend yourself,’” Stewart said. “I did, and therefore, they never came back and said, ‘Hey you need to give your money to the university.’ I also never even received all of the money I made off the video.”

Stewart has taken cautionary measures by reaching out for legal assistance to represent him on his case.

“I have contacted the Student Press Law Center, they were definitely on my side on the case,” Stewart said. “They are working to contact a lawyer to defend me in this case. Basically, they want to help me in this because they know I am in the right, and they say what the university is doing is illegal anyways. So, they said they will be helping me in this matter.”

Darcie Shinberger, director of university relations, was contacted but declined to comment on the situation.

“Judicial matters and proceedings, as well as personnel matters, are confidential. Therefore, there is no further statement available,” Shinberger said.

According to Biller’s letter, Stewart’s judicial hearing will occur after he has met with the university’s Internal Auditor Rita Moore and with the Western Courier Publications Board, which selected Stewart as editor-in-chief last April.

The two have been asked to consider whether Stewart committed any professional, ethical or legal violations, according to Biller’s letter.