Preaching Media Values: Your College Newspaper
A journalistic anecdote tells the following pun:
“What is the easiest way to destroy both a bank, a politician’s career and a fly?”
The answer — a newspaper.
While the orthodox reader wouldn’t necessarily stray away his perception from the local and national print in that regard, it’s fair to also include the student media in these generic presumptions. Why? Because democratic expression and autonomous publishing are core values best exercised where a journalist first learns to adopt them.
I believe in the power of college newspapers. I am confident in the greater impact of online campus media compared to big-time news outlets. Contrary to some fellow students in my university, I am also a firm believer in its on-campus independency and greater integrity.
My four-year experience in news reporting as a student journalist in a liberal arts university has consistently infilled me with the belief that the administrative authority cannot enchain the student writer’s hands. In fact, it fears them. This is strikingly pertinent when investigative pieces and articles of academia or executive members’ critique are published by our student-run medium, AUBG Daily.
While our new followers have recently included the members to Board of Trustees(and the Chair to the Board, in specific), the university’s last two presidents, the current dean of students and officials from the other administrative offices, the recoil of such articles has at best generated student community and faculty’s activist engagement and at worst –subscribers’ mordant remarks in the comments sections on language use and alleged misinformed opinions. In spite of this wide amplitude in feedback, our Mediaroom is yet to receive an official notice for more mindful reporting. But why is that the case?
Financially supported by their alma mater, student newspapers and online media would supposedly follow a pattern of news coverage that remains positive and courteous to the institution’s organizational matters. This expectancy is shared mostly among the people at the “receiving end” of these journalistic materials — the college’s management. But top-down censorship remains an unattained goal, chiefly because the readership community, a generally sizeable part of the on-campus constituencies, would revolt against the applied publishing restrictions. A perceptive student medium that invests in the virtues of objectiveness and keeps a sense of the stingy student temper would surely attract the liking and receive the backing of the university majority.
Another valid point in that regard is the streamline and allocation of monetary funds for college clubs. The financial divisions in most European and US — based universities delegate these duties to the student government, which, in turn, re-distributes budgets to student-run organizations, including campus media. Thus, power stays in the hands of respective undergraduate representatives. Funds are never cut short because of the choice of activities and interests of a given club, nor is there a forceful advice on the conducting of the bucket allocation. Again, majority and consensus prevail. In contrast, local and national media across and beyond the European and US areas, are financially served by equal parts of individual contributors, advertising companies benefactors, and generally other parties that invest with funds, but also with their intrinsic political affiliations and cultural paradigms that advertently mold the medium’s coverage.
The educational environment is also a predisposing factor. In fact, it acts as the prime testing niche for young journalists to plunge into the organizational archives search and unearth wrongdoings, information mismatches and other newsworthy institutional or corporate peculiarities. In the opinion column of The Yale Daily News, US’s oldest college daily newspaper, first and second-year students refute pro journalists and editors from The Politic and doctorate degree professors from their own academy. Ohio State University’s “The Lantern” posts readers’ letters on their main page that backlash against an on-campus clock-tower construction worth of $1.4 million. “The Beaver”, London School of Economics’ ‘hard-nosed’ reporting medium, regularly exposes of fellow student colleagues’ Student Union election failings and breaches of by-laws. Any renowned medium finding their reporters publishing articles in dispute of their editor, or a decision(be it even for a construction site owned by the corporation) or a disrespectful colleague’ demeanor would almost immediately see the door.
Ultimately, student content shouldn’t necessarily obliterate the image of the university institution, but neither should it be entirely supportive and promotional. It must mediate, objectify, distill and serve as a valuable news service. Added to the student grit and zest for reporting, college newspapers and online media are bound to cling to their integrity for as long as the public serves them.
Georgi Dobrev is a journalism student at the American University in Bulgaria. He writes about media values, ethics in news coverage and sports.