J ournalism is under fire. The most visible attacks are coming from the White House, from a president who clearly sees truth as a threat and those who deliver it the enemy. But Donald Trump isn’t the only one who would choke freedom of the press in order to gain an additional measure of authority. So, too, would far too many college and university administrators, who are seeking to silence student journalists through rules, intimidation and, increasingly, targeted funding cuts.
Many student newspapers (and TV and radio operations) are funded at least partly through the colleges they serve, or rely on college faculty or staff for guidance. Pulling funding to pay those who serve as advisers to student journalists hinders the students’ ability to do their jobs well and sends the message that, just maybe, this isn’t the sort of career the institution values.
Cutting funding for staff or operational expenses — such things as printing, equipment and supplies — or trying to make news operations answerable to administrators also erodes the freedom aspiring journalists need to properly do their jobs. Surely, there’s a lesson in that, about censorship and why a free press matters, but it hardly offsets the loss of voice and discouragement of the next generation of truth-seekers.
As noted recently by the Student Press Law Center and Poynter Institute for Media Studies, this trend toward silencing college journalists through budget and policy hijinks has led to a movement among student newspapers; #SaveStudentNewsrooms includes nearly 140 college news operations around the nation, many of whom authored editorials or testimonials to the value of an unfettered student press in a coordinated event held April 25.
Newsrooms — student or otherwise — that rely on the goodwill of those handling the purse strings are in a bad position. College papers, like their real-world counterparts, are facing increased financial pressures as more readers and advertisers go online. That will only exacerbate the issue of independence and put the future of journalism education in danger of losing what’s perhaps its most-practical tool.
The Sentinel recently benefited from the work of three excellent interns — all journalists at The Equinox, the student newspaper at Keene State College. And we have several newsroom staff members who are Equinox alums. Fortunately, these student journalists — and those at nearby Franklin Pierce University, where communications is a key program — have not been thus targeted. (That’s not to say there hasn’t been some tension between Keene State’s administration and its student journalists; a year ago, under then-college President Anne Huot, staff and faculty were banned from speaking to any journalists, including those at the Equinox and even journalism students working on class assignments, without hand-holding from the college’s communications staff. That situation came to a head when the journalism department staff penned a public letter on the subject and eased when Huot resigned.)
We can attest to the benefits of journalism education in general. Having had strong relationships with journalism schools in several states has brought many fine young journalists through Keene. Some of them have gone on to greater things, both in journalism and in other fields. Some have stayed or returned to our newsroom, helping better inform the residents of the Monadnock Region.
And that’s the big picture: Journalists and journalism may be under fire these days from those with something to hide, but we think most rational consumers of information recognize the value of being well-informed. A poorly informed voter is a detriment to our society. Knowing what’s happening around you, especially when those in power would keep it from becoming known, is a vital part of a successful democracy.
And for that, you need new, fresh voices. Those voices come from college newsrooms. And those newsrooms are in increasing danger of being co-opted or otherwise diminished.
If that happens, so are we all.