Commentary: Collegiate press faces unique challenges, strives to garner support and respect
Collegiate student media organizations are fundamentally important for the well-being and education of students, but their continued existence is being put to the test.
On the surface, these organizations seem simple —students pursue stories and publish them — but they are actually complex and are under a lot of pressure. Different colleges can have vastly different ways they fund and support student media.
At Shippensburg University, The Slate is a volunteer organization and is recognized by the SU Student Government Association. The recognition means the student government allocates money, which is generated from the student activity fee, to The Slate. Nearly half of The Slate’s funding needs to be given back to the student government by generating advertising revenue.
Because SU student media organizations are funded directly by students and through the student government they can operate without oversight from the administration. A free student-run press is critical to deliver student bodies and campus communities relatable and truthful information, and it prevents the press from turning into the public relations arm of the administration or the faculty union.
Like many other college newspapers, The Slate has a faculty adviser to guide students in making decisions, but the editor-in-chief is ultimately responsible for all decisions. That point was brought up over the weekend by the Indiana Daily Student (IDS) editorial board.
IDS is the student newspaper at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, Indiana, which is known for its high-caliber media school. In the letter from the editor “The IDS must maintain editorial independence,” the editorial board addressed its frustration with the forced resignation of their adviser and IU’s Director of Student Media Ron Johnson.
The letter, which is posted on idsnews.com, explains that the student newspaper is experiencing fiscally challenging times and that Media School Dean James Shanahan forced its adviser to retire for financial reasons and find an interim director.
Unlike with The Slate, IDS’s funding stems from the IU Media School, meaning Johnson’s salary and IDS’s funding comes from the same pot of money.
The IDS editorial board recognizes that the newspaper is not getting the funding and advertising revenue that it once did — a brutal reality many college newspapers are trying to cope with. What the editors found intolerable was that they did not a get a voice in the dean’s decision to have Johnson retire. Their point was that if the editor-in-chief is responsible for decisions made about the IDS then why was she not included in the decision?
The letter caught the attention of the College Media Association (CMA), which seeks to serve collegiate student media programs and their advisers. CMA President Chris Evans sent a letter of his own to Lauren Robel, IU’s provost and executive vice president, telling her that IU should tread carefully or risk having the prestige of its renowned journalism program suffer. Evans supported the student editors and urged Robel to listen to their concerns.
“We urge you to listen to your students. Your national reputation is in jeopardy,” Evans said in his letter, which can be found on collegemedia.org.
The unfortunate circumstances at Indiana University are a wake-up call that student input is wise and even necessary at schools around the world. It is also sends a clear message that the collegiate press is an important institution at universities and it should not be ignored or neglected or mistreated.