May 5, 2021

By Claire Isenegger, Serena Chow and Hannah Docter-Loeb, Wesleyan University

Throughout the years, student journalists have held administrations accountable, spotlighted local communities, and provided valuable coverage during times of uncertainty. However, many student newsrooms — including The Wesleyan Argus — are far from representative of the communities they cover. This is compounded by the fact that student journalism is often an unpaid time commitment.

For students supporting themselves financially through college — especially low-income students of color — working at a student-run paper without compensation can be a considerable hardship and an inherent barrier to accessing and navigating future journalism opportunities.

The idea for The Argus Voices Fund, which offers paid reporting positions to students of color from low-income backgrounds, came from the recognition that the unpaid labor that goes into producing the paper each week has likely discouraged students from contributing to it. Prior to launching this fund in summer 2020, the only paid positions on our staff were our web editor, financial manager, distribution manager, head copy editors and layout staff.

While the university’s student government funds our printing and website costs, we rely entirely on donations to pay our staff. Like unpaid internships, these unpaid positions are often only realistic for students from more privileged backgrounds.

The second concern we wanted to address is that our newsroom is predominantly white and therefore not representative of the communities we cover. Furthermore, the voices of students of color are rarely centered in newsroom conversations and editorial decisions on stories about their communities.

The failure of our newsroom to report on stories amplifying the voices of those from marginalized communities cannot be adequately addressed without first acknowledging our failure to retain and support journalists of color.

The Argus Voices Fund aims to break down the barriers that have historically prevented journalists of color from low-income backgrounds from contributing to The Argus. We also wanted to provide a supportive space for all students interested in journalism and offer a holistic learning experience for all reporters.

We started fundraising over the summer with the goal of raising $3,000 to fund five reporting positions for the fall semester. We were able to raise a little under $3,000 and decided to offer two full-year paid positions instead of the original five half-year positions. Writers hired through The Voices Fund could write, report or edit for any section of the newspaper, depending on their interests.

When we posted and shared The Argus Voices Fund application in September 2020, there was more interest than we initially anticipated: 19 students from a wide range of class years and with a range of journalism experience applied for the two available positions. We ended up hiring two students who have continued to write frequently for The Argus.

How it’s going

Raising funds has not been easy. Over the summer when we asked alumni for donations, some said our model of relying on donations was unsustainable. We’ve tried applying for various grants in hopes of padding the income we receive from donations, but have had little success in that area. As a result, we will likely have to rely on donations yet again to continue and expand the program.

For independent student papers, there are limited resources available to fund and sustain programs that aim to address fundamental issues in student newsrooms.

We do see a future where this program expands beyond BIPOC low-income students to include position funding for low-income students at large. In an ideal world, we would want every single person who contributes to the paper to be paid for their time. However, we have a ways to go before we have the financial stability to do so.

Our advice to other student newsrooms

Our process of creating The Argus Voices Fund began with asking ourselves difficult but indispensable questions: What voices are centered in our newsroom? What voices do we value? What has our newsroom done to support journalists of color in our predominantly white newsroom and to improve accessibility to student journalism?

The amazing work of journalists of color and our commitment to keep engaging in these conversations were instrumental in shaping the mission of Argus Voices. Argus Voices is not about giving voice to the voiceless. Journalists of color have always had a voice, but not necessarily a welcoming platform and environment to share stories.

The Argus newsroom at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. (Courtesy)

If any college newsrooms are considering implementing a similar program to The Argus Voices Fund, we have a few words of advice:

  • Consider how you intend to fund such a program: How many paid positions would you want to create? Would students be paid hourly or an annual stipend? Do you have a plan to keep the program going in future years?
  • Consider how your newsroom can sustain the longevity of a program like this to ensure eligible students can be paid for their contributions to the paper for as long as they are interested in working in a newsroom.
  • Explore the options available to your newsroom: Is there a way to get funding through the university, or specific grants/prizes? We have explored some national grants, but your university may have a specific grant that could easily fund this project.

Introducing paid reporting positions for low-income students of color is not the only way to implement anti-racist practices in your newsroom. There are other necessary steps that must be taken to address systemic issues in student journalism. These include, but are not limited to, establishing a coverage tracker, a beat system to ensure comprehensive coverage of underrepresented communities that newsrooms often fail to report on, and regular anti-racist discussions.

If anyone is interested in hearing more or donating to The Argus Voices Fund, feel free to reach out to any of us. We are also open to hearing other ideas or suggestions on how to expand the program — after all, we’re just getting started.

Claire Isenegger is a senior at Wesleyan University and the former editor-in-chief of The Wesleyan Argus. Claire can be reached at cisenegger@wesleyan.edu or on Twitter @claireisenegger. 

Serena Chow is a senior at Wesleyan University and the former editor-in-chief of The Wesleyan Argus. Serena can be reached at sschow@wesleyan.edu

Hannah Docter-Loeb is a junior at Wesleyan University and the managing editor of The Wesleyan Argus. Hannah can be reached at hdocterloeb@wesleyan.edu or on Twitter @keepitonthehdl.

More on diversity in student newsrooms

From The Lead’s archives:

One story worth reading

Journalists at The Arizona Republic and other Gannett newsrooms are using Twitter to call out their owner for perpetuating gender and racial pay gaps. Women of color had a median salary of more than $15,000 less than that of white men, and median salaries of men and women show a pay gap of nearly $10,000, Angela Fu writes for Poynter. The study included roughly 450 employees across 14 unionized Gannett newsrooms.

Gannett responded to the pay study by accusing its own journalists of spreading misinformation. But the issues go beyond the pay study — 21 journalists have left the Republic in the past year, the Phoenix New Times reports, many of them women and journalists of color. “The recent exodus of employees points to a crisis of confidence in our newsroom,” said reporter Rebekah Sanders, who also chairs the Arizona Republic Guild.

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Taylor Blatchford is a journalist at The Seattle Times who independently writes The Lead, a newsletter for student journalists. She can be reached at blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com…
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