Today, we’re having a conversation about journalism — a craft, a career path, an industry that is currently hemorrhaging before our eyes and at our mercy. Changes in the way media is disseminated, digested and financed are affecting newsrooms across the country, and despite a lack of attention thus far, college newsrooms are not exempt from these widespread threats.
In light of Student Journalism Day, on April 25, over 90 college publications around the country are banding together and speaking out about the troubles faced within their own newsrooms as a part of the #SaveStudentNewsrooms movement. These vital, long-needed conversations about student journalism follow rising concerns over the fate of local news — news sources that, like college publications, are geared toward serving and reporting on smaller subsets of the population at large.
The foundations of New York were rocked when word spread on Nov. 2 of last year that DNAinfo and the Gothamist, two local publications, were folding. This announcement came on the heels of the announcement that the Village Voice, a New York-based alt-newspaper, would be releasing its last print edition on Sept. 21 of 2017. But what hasn’t been publicized, or even acknowledged, up until the emergence of this student journalism-focused movement, is that fact that local news sources aren’t the only victims of an aching publishing industry.
College publications are suffering, too. Our responsibilities have soared — many publications immersed within cities or towns, such as Washington Square News, take responsibility for filling the informational gaps left by their vanished neighbors — while our conditions indicate a similar fate.
Whether it be threats to independence, an inability to compensate student labor or forced decreases in circulation, the financial suffering of student newsrooms is leading to suffocation reminiscent of that felt by local publications. Many student publications have been forced to make difficult, critical, lose-lose decisions without input, support or recognition from the greater community.
Recently, Southern Methodist University’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Campus, announced that it was under threat of re-affiliating with the university due to an inability to finance its existence independently. As a part of the movement, other college publications have been sharing information about their own, often dire, financial situations, voicing concerns over editorial independence and reminding the public of the significance of their work.
These letters, editorials and appeals resonate with me. This newspaper — the newspaper that I’m responsible for — covers the goings on of one of the largest, most expensive, private universities in the United States. NYU is a household name with an expansive, even global, brand. Yet, despite the allure of reaching NYU students, advertising is hard to come by and we’ve been forced to make difficult financial decisions. If it’s happening to us, I can’t imagine what’s going on at newer, smaller college publications.
College publications are being faced with an impossible decision — whether to fold or affiliate. If it came down to it, what would you do? It makes me sick that I even have to balance this hypothetical in my mind, because there is no right answer. What’s better: quasi-censorship, tainted content or watching your publication turn to dust? This isn’t a choice 20-year-old college students should have to make; yet here we are watching the effects unfold across the nation.
Within the past few years, WSN shifted from daily printing to one weekly printed newspaper. Circulation has been slashed, we reduced the pages in each newspaper from 16 to 12 and we’ve essentially embarked upon any money-saving measures possible that don’t detract from the quality of our editorial work. I’ve had to spend countless hours worrying about money; about the future of our newspaper, and I thought I was alone in doing so. I can’t say whether it’s comforting or disheartening to hear that other publications are feeling the same, but it’s certainly positive to know that tangible, creative thought is going into forming long-term solutions.
I want a student newsroom where my staff isn’t forced to choose between sacrificing a paid job and improved financial security to write and report for no compensation. I hope for a student newsroom where the work of student journalists, who put in dozens of hours of work a week into informing the community, is recognized and appreciated. I want a student newsroom that has financial security and the promise of a long, impactful existence. We can’t fix the issues of the journalism industry overnight, but we can at least talk about it.
Nobody will fully recognize the importance of their college newspaper until it’s gone, or until it’s forced into a corner where it’s only option is to serve as a mouthpiece for the university. As college newspapers, we check power, we record history, we give a voice to students whose words would otherwise remain unheard. We are a vital resource for information and for preparing future journalists. So before it’s too late, let’s protect the independence of our college publications, and in turn, show our support for a generation of future journalists, who have been working quietly behind the scenes, trying their best to tell the stories that matter, defending a dying legacy.
While this opinion expressed belongs to Jemima McEvoy, WSN endorses the #SaveStudentNewsrooms movement.
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Email Jemima McEvoy at [email protected].