Staff Editorial: We’re advocating to #SaveStudentNewsrooms across college campuses
Student journalism demands resources to continue holding institutions accountable
Student newsrooms are more important than ever in a climate that distrusts and attacks journalism.
What becomes increasingly essential is the support of universities across student media, but that hasn’t always been the case. Student-run papers have been sued by their own universities for attempting to access relevant information. They’re ostracized by full-time journalists for attempting to hold their positions to a higher standard. On April 25, a day of advocacy for the “Save Student Newsrooms” campaign, we have the opportunity to share how pivotal and important student newsrooms are on campuses, within communities and across the journalism industry. This campaign, launched by the University of Florida’s student-run paper, The Independent Florida Alligator, provides us a chance to highlight the dire circumstances facing student journalism. Student newsrooms throughout the country don’t have nearly enough of the support and resources they need to operate a campus paper.
The benefits of student journalism to students and a campus community are undeniable. We report on things that no one else tells the student body. This semester alone, The Eagle found and reported on a sweeping data exposure that had gone completely unnoticed by the University. When the University announced that a cluster of coronavirus cases formed somewhere on campus, it was The Eagle that reported that the cluster was in Nebraska Hall. At the start of the pandemic, The Eagle launched a site dedicated to keeping the student body informed during a rapidly changing crisis. We pay attention to what the University is doing so that the student body has a centralized source of reliable information. Every student media organization at American University is part of the community they’re reporting on, bringing a unique level of insight and empathy to our work.
Without student newsrooms, the student bodies of universities have almost no institutional memory. A quarter of the undergraduate population graduates every year and a new quarter joins, completely unaware of the school’s past. Campus papers are the only way that historical view is retained, the only source reminding students of their institution’s past. Student journalists are dedicated to that kind of rigorous research and reporting.
Student newsrooms exist outside of “professional” and national journalism. That gives us the opportunity to see what’s wrong with those organizations, sending us into the journalism industry with the will to change it for the better. It also gives student journalists real preparation for their careers. In our newsrooms, reporters are able to pursue what they want. Internships in this field don’t allow for the same level of creativity. The experience students get through their campus papers is invaluable and sets them up for success after graduation.
So many other student newsrooms that are smaller than The Eagle, with even less financial and administrative support, are producing the same high quality work. It is essential that they are given the tools to continue. Beyond donating money, these organizations need resources like cameras and microphones. They need mentors who will donate their time to guide them. Our newsrooms need recognition from faculty, administration and fellow students. Criticism and accountability from our community pushes us to look within and constantly improve. Appreciation goes a long way by indicating to student journalists that their hard work has an impact. Universities are microcosms of our country. They must support the same values of truth and accountability that exist nationally by investing in their student newsrooms.
The root of all of this work is the passion student journalists have. We’re not paid for this. We run a paper and produce content comparable to professional journalism, deal with breaking news, all the while carrying full academic course loads. We do it because we’re dedicated, we love it and it’s fun. At times, this level of responsibility is extremely difficult, but that’s how committed we are to our purpose of informing the AU community and holding our institution accountable. The role student newsrooms play on colleges and in local communities is too important to let insufficient funding and resources get in the way.