Exploring the Difficulties and Push Back Faced by Student Newspapers
By Emily Zoda
Welcome to Emily’s “Take on Media!” In every Issue of the Banner you’ll start seeing this column where I talk about a variety of topics in the media, be it podcasts or journalism, and how it plays out in the grander scheme of it all.
This past year has revealed difficulties for student publications in the face of traditional foes, such as unfair budget cuts by prude student government, and new foes, such as activists.
Campus newspapers have always held the responsibility of chronicling a school’s history from a student’s perspective and voicing students’ opinions on everything from the cost of textbooks to students’ rights.
Colleges allow funds to be allocated to students for clubs and activities to participate on campus and boost morale. What they also have is the power to take those funds away from students who use it inappropriately.
Inappropriately, in the eyes of some College officials, means anything that could damage the reputation of the College.
For instance, the University of Kansas’ current, and former, editors have recently filed a suit against the University for failing to intervene when its student senators, according to the editors, inappropriately cut funding.
The students claim that the defunding coincided with an editorial published in May 2014, which criticized the student elections process that elected new officials in every year.
Mount Saint Mary’s college newspaper The Mountain Echo lost its faculty advisor earlier this year over a story published about the College President’s new initiative to cull the amount of struggling freshmen, comparing them to “cuddly bunnies” that “you just have to drown.”
A University of Missouri professor attempted to kick out a campus reporter during protests relating to the treatment of minorities on campus and Wesleyan University’s student government slashed the school’s paper after the paper published an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement.
After becoming the focus of a New York Times article, and backlash from students, the President resigned and the faculty advisor was reinstated.
“Their obligation is to the truth and to keep an eye on the other centers of power at a school,” said Christopher Anderson, Journalism professor at the College of Staten Island and author of “Rebuilding the News.” “They probably have an obligation to produce bad press if anything. Or at least critical press.”
Funding a student newspaper’s printing costs and other significant fees, at its core, is funding a place for students’ voices to be heard.
As some university’s face budget cuts, expenses at student newspapers are increasingly being seen as expandable.
CUNY’s budget cuts through the past few years have been widely chronicled and some student publications are beginning to feel the brunt of it.
“I do wish we had way more funding, perhaps double of what we currently get,” said Brandon Jordan, Editor-in-Chief at the The Knight News, Queens College’s student newspaper, who’s initial budget this year made it difficult to print regularly.
“Beyond that, the College does not determine our content, and our content does not affect our budget hearings,” said Jordan.
The Internet has provided the space for independent digital student news outlets to flourish and establish complete independence from their universities.
“We are completely funded by advertising revenue,” said Kelly Weill, co-editor in chief of NYU Local. “Fortunately, it costs almost nothing to run a blog, so we have very few expenses.”
The digital only publication was established when editors of the WSN didn’t prioritize a website to reach a wider audience than just the University.
NYU Local has flourished as a rival news source for NYU students since their widely publicized coverage of the “Take Back NYU!” student protests in 2009 where they were recognized by several news outlets for their coverage.
The news blog’s digital presence surprisingly stacks up well against NYU’s official student newspaper, Washington Square News.
NYU Local boasts about 14,800 Twitter followers and 5,665 likes on Facebook to WSN’s approximately 8,100 Twitter followers and just over 8,000 likes on Facebook.
In contrast, writers at WSN have suffered cutbacks as the paper has gone from a daily publication to weekly.
Well into the digital age of journalism, student publications are seeing the benefits of having less dependence on their respective institutions, but cutting the cord completely still proves difficult.
“It’s nice knowing that I can tweet or release a newsletter for free and give an important story the same push it would’ve received if I asked our college’s publications board for additional funds to hire a distributor for our print addition,” said Clifford Michel, co-editor in chief of CSI’s The Banner.
“That being said, there’s a million things I can think of that I still need to fund, bv considering our relatively disengaged student body,” he continued.
Anderson says no matter what type of money is being given to publications, be it student activity fees or political party funds, there’ll always be some influence.
“There is always a tension between where a news organization gets its money from,” said Anderson. “And the degree of control a funder has over the agenda of that paper.”