A Note on Student Journalism

I should begin this post by acknowledging that, as the editor in chief of the publication about which I am writing, I am very, very biased.

In the past week or so, our team at The Middlebury Campus has reported about: a professor who asked students on an exam to calculate a lethal dose of the gas “Nazi Germany used to horrific ends in the gas chambers during The Holocaust” ; another professor who just a few days later began a Geology class with a cartoon of a slave ship; and now the cancellation of a lecture supposed to be given by a controversial, far-right politician from Poland.

Our reporting has fed stories by the Associated Press, Newsweek, Seven Days, the Burlington Free Press, among others, including those that have not been kind enough to admit they read our stuff first. The moral of the story: student journalism matters.

Being a student journalist is a funny thing. We hold ourselves to the standards of full-time, professional journalists (or at least we try), yet we report in-between classes, homework assignments, job and graduate school applications, our current jobs, and other extracurricular activities. Here at Middlebury, we don’t have a journalism program or an advisor who oversees what we print and how we do it; we’re on our own.

Over the past couple of days, and in the years I’ve been involved with The Campus, we have made errors in our reporting. The mistakes have been honest; some have made me cringe, filled me with regret and anger. All have pushed us to do better. We’ve published corrections, apologized, and moved on. That’s just the way student journalism goes.

But, despite these mistakes and flaws, student journalism must go on. Who else would do it? Who else would take the time to fully understand the issues at play in a serious, nuanced way that actually captures what is going on in their own community? Surely not the national media, who all too often parachute in with columns and news reports that fail to truly report what is happening on campus. I am sure this isn’t a new phenomenon, but in the last few years, in the age of fake news and online misinformation, it has grown even more important.

I was a news editor when Charles Murray visited campus in 2017, managing editor when James O’Keefe did the same later that year, and I am editor in chief now. While each incident is different, one thing remains the same: each one has been gobbled up by outside media (mostly the right-wing blogosphere) and spit out the other side full of fabrications, exaggerations and outright lies. The end result: a false narrative about what actually happened. And who is left to correct it all? Student journalists.

In 2017, we had a website that could barely function. Now, we have one that allows us to publish news more or less as it happens. With that comes the bad: a higher likelihood of making mistakes. And the good: the ability to correct misinformation and deliver news the community needs in real time.

My reasons for writing here and not in our paper? I don’t want to assume that this post meets the publication standards of The Campus, or make the still-developing story at Middlebury about us. And, as I prepare to graduate next month, I feel the need to remind those I will soon be joining in post-undergraduate life of the importance of student journalism. It is often overlooked.

Yesterday, as a group of us typed away on a story in the student center, two Middlebury faculty members walked over and said thank you. We weren’t looking for praise (we never are), but it felt good.

The next time you’re reading an article in a student newspaper, remember this: it was most-likely written by an over-caffeinated, under-fed, stressed-out, yet eager, willing, and excited young journalist. Students who are considering careers in journalism (myself included), often wonder, in an era of never-ending job cuts, corporate greed and daily attempts to delegitimize professional journalism, is there a place for us? Is it worth diving in head-first? The answer is, of course, yes. But, giving a thumbs up or sending a note to a student journalist may be the thing they need to say no to Wall Street and yes to beginning their career at a small town newspaper you’ve never heard of.

And so, here’s the ask: read student journalism; support student journalism; rather than post a summary of what’s happening on campus by a national outlet, share student journalism. It’s worth it.

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