Student Journalism: The Future of the Free Press

Matthew Cameron
Sep 9, 2018 · 3 min read

Last month, hundreds of newspapers across the country published editorials defending the importance of a free press in the wake of attacks from President Trump and others in the government.

Many people are rightfully rallying around professional media organizations such as The New York Times and CNN, but there is another key part of the media landscape that is equally deserving of attention and support: student journalism.

Education through Publication

Universities and their surrounding communities are often at the heart of major news stories. Higher education has always been a magnet for controversial protest movements and speakers, and college campuses now find themselves in the crosshairs of violent political groups such as the white supremacists who gathered at last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. Student journalists are often at the frontlines of covering these events.

Moreover, incidents of administrative controversy, academic fraud, and even sexual abuse are occurring with startling frequency at major colleges and universities. Student journalists sometimes get to these stories first, and their coverage is often more detailed and comprehensive than what national news outlets can provide.

Students also receive a hands-on education while working for college media, which is just as important as the news coverage they provide. Student journalists learn the skills and ethics required to carry on the tradition of a free press, and some of the most important journalists of recent memory got their start in campus newsrooms.

A Free Press Isn’t Free

However, student journalists are facing many of the same pressures as their professional counterparts. Print advertising revenue is down, and most student media organizations struggle to compete in the increasingly concentrated world of digital advertising.

Top 10 Ad Sellers Account for 74% of Digital Ad Revenue

Source: IAB internet advertising revenue report — 2017 full year results

This is causing more college media to turn toward student fees as an alternative revenue source. However, rising college costs are making these fees increasingly unpalatable, and a reliance on this revenue stream can create awkward situations when student journalists provide coverage that is critical of their university administration.

A New Path Forward

Some student journalists are beginning to take a different approach: donor-supported journalism. This strategy has found success at a professional level, with award-winning nonprofit media organizations such as The Texas Tribune and ProPublica funded by donations and grants.

College media are also beginning to have success with fundraising. Most recently, Warren Buffett contributed $100,000 worth of stock to The Daily Nebraskan after their student fees were threatened.

Student journalists at The Cavalier Daily.

I serve on the Board of Directors for The Cavalier Daily, and I’ve seen firsthand the power of fundraising as a way to sustain and strengthen student media. In 2015, I worked with a team of students and alumni who raised more than $70,000 to pay off overdue rent and start a rainy-day fund for future overhead costs that advertising revenue might not cover. We’ve used the momentum from this campaign to triple annual giving to The Cavalier Daily since 2014, which is helping finance internships, training, and operating costs for the newspaper.

This week, I’m excited to embark on the next chapter in our fundraising journey with a campaign that aims to generate the funds necessary for balancing The Cavalier Daily’s budget in 2019. With alumni and students working in partnership, we hope to pave the way for an annual campaign that can minimize the financial stress placed on student journalists so they can focus on producing the outstanding coverage that has earned them a spot among The Princeton Review’s Top 20 college newspapers for four consecutive years.

If you’re a Cavalier Daily friend or alumnus, you’ll be hearing from us soon! In the meantime, you can receive updates by subscribing to The Cavalier Daily email newsletter.

And if you want to support student journalism right away, you can donate to The Cavalier Daily here.

Lastly, please get in touch if you work in student journalism, nonprofit media, or have other experience with fundraising. With your help, we can keep student journalism thriving in an era when it’s more important than ever.

Matthew Cameron

Written by

Marketer, traveler, leader. PMM @salesforce, President @cavdailyalumni. Let's talk: matthewccameron.com

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