April 23, 2018

Will the next generation of journalists fall prey to censorship?

We’ve all grown accustomed to the notion that the news media and journalists are under attack from several quarters. But there’s a certain portion of this group that now seems more vulnerable than ever: student journalists.

That’s important to know as student news operations prepare for Wednesday’s #SaveStudentNewsroomsDay for 87 student publications nationwide. This is an effort to raise understanding, allies — and funds — for the work

At risk: the independence or even survival of student publications that hold powerful universities and local communities accountable — and are the training ground for the next generation of journalists.

“So many of us started at college newspapers,” tweeted Los Angeles Times reporter Jim Puzzanghera on Friday. “This is a cause worth supporting if you value the First Amendment.”

Some student newspapers are in dire shape. Southern Methodist University’s Daily Campus, independent for 103 years, likely is heading under the university’s wing, a prospect that alarms alums who had jousted with administration censorship efforts in the past.

The SMU board overseeing the paper secretly decided to fold in January but did not announce it until this month — just weeks before it said it would close, said ProPublica’s Jennifer Huseman, a former student editor. The move prevented “student journalists from reporting on their own paper,” said Huseman, who is among alumni who have pledged about $20,000 so far in a last-ditch effort to keep the paper independent. (Here’s its GoFundMe page).

At the University of Toledo, the Independent Collegian on April 3 wrote an editorial with a headline that says it all: “Our newspaper is dying.”

On Thursday, SPJ endorsed Wednesday’s nationwide student effort, with national president Rebecca Baker saying pressure must build on universities to support their independent student media.

Even “healthier” student news outlets, such as The Alligator at the University of Florida, are burning through reserves and need to figure out how to survive and stay independent, says Caitlin Ostroff, a managing editor of the Alligator and a coordinator of Wednesday’s nationwide movement. Often ignored, says Huseman: Alums who have written grants and have extensive experience in America’s expanding non-profit journalism sector.

From her own experience, writing for a summer SMU publication that had oversight — and spiked two stories for fear of offending incoming students — Huseman says the difference between university-run and independent student media is huge. One trains for hard-edged reporting; the other breeds a culture of self-censorship that rots journalism’s mission. Huseman notes that some universities, such as SMU, have removed in recent years the basic guarantees of constitutional freedom of expression from their handbooks on student rights.

Ostroff, who with fellow campus editors nationwide has coordinated efforts on a closed Facebook group, sees some inevitability in closer university financing.

But there are limits.

"We know, in a practical matter, that many papers will have to go back to the university for funding, but we want to make sure that they don't lose their independence," she says.

Here’s a first stop for those interested in following the story: a site created by Alligator editors to gather stories of challenges to student publications — and testimonials of students and alums who have helped their audiences, and developed their skills, on student-run outlets. Among contributors: Rick Hirsch, managing editor of the Miami Herald, and Cory McCoy of the Tyler Daily Telegraph. The headline of McCoy’s article: My student investigation into handling of sexual assault reports brought change.

Quick hits

MY VIEW (AS A 10-YEAR-OLD): Fifth-grader Sam Peter was blocked by Louisiana legislators when he wanted to speak about the effect of arming teachers. So a state newspaper, The Advocate, gave him a column, in which he wrote: “We are affected by laws the same way grown-ups are, but I think many times people forget this. … Here in Louisiana, kids have a bigger chance of dying from guns than in any other state. It is scary.” He concludes: “If grown-ups would consider what children like me have to say, better laws might be passed."

RELATED CARTOON: When the Senate finally agreed to allow babies onto the Senate floor, after Senator Tammy Duckworth had one, several older senators complained that the toddlers would interrupt the decorum. Nate Beeler of the Columbus Dispatch imagined other consequences:

WHY ARE NEWSPAPER SITES SO TERRIBLE?: Andrew Zaleski asks this question for CityLab. His answer: Overlays of ill-functioning ad tech, with revenue — and not the loyalty of the customer — foremost in mind. The introductory graphic is almost every nightmare you’ve ever had about a news site.

HELPING LAID-OFF DENVER POST JOURNALISTS: It’s not charity, it’s work. A journalism nonprofit has established a fund for former Post reporters and journalists to produce feature-length stories about growing economic inequality, both in Colorado and America. The Economic Hardship Reporting Project earlier had set aside $5,000 for DNAInfo and Gothamist staffers fired abruptly by billionaire Joe Ricketts after unionization efforts. The first story supported through the fund — “Walking While Trans” by former Gothamist reporter Emma Whitford — was published in NYMag’s The Cut in January 2018. The fund’s founder, author Barbara Ehrenreich (“Nickel and Dimed”), says: “We are committed to doing everything we can to provide emergency funding to support journalists being treated unfairly and to ensure meaningful coverage of the economic hardship that Americans are facing.”

ABOUT THAT NEWSPAPER OWNER: After another Digital First paper won a Pulitzer Prize last year, the company’s Northern California editor “has been forced to say goodbye to another 50 staffers.” That’s from Lloyd Grove’s Daily Beast profile of hedge-fund newspaper chain owner Heath Freeman entitled “The Gordon Gekko of Newspapers: A Vulture Capitalist Kneecapping Journalists.

FOOLED BY TRUMP’S ‘SPOKESMAN’: He gave his name as John Barron and said he worked for Donald Trump. He said Trump was worth much more than his actual $5 million net worth, and lied to get his “boss” onto the Forbes 400 Richest list. Now we know that bamboozler was really Donald Trump himself, and the former Forbes researcher has tapes.

ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE: “In light of questions that have publicly surfaced,” the Boston Globe placed award-winning columnist Kevin Cullen on leave, it announced in a brief statement on Friday. The move came a day after WEEI sports radio, a frequent conservative critic of the Globe, and an anonymous blog post accused Cullen of mischaracterizing his attendance at the Boston Marathon bombing five years ago. Cullen was placed on paid leave while “a thorough examination, involving a third party with expertise, is done of his work. We will be transparent with the results of the review,” the one-paragraph editor’s note said.

What we’re reading

NOT A GATED COMMUNITY: A Washington City Council member who said Jews control the weather is taken on tour of the Holocaust Museum — but leaves halfway through. An aide to Trayon White asks if the Warsaw Ghetto, where Polish Jews were walled in, was like "a gated community." “I wouldn’t call it a gated community,” a rabbi answers. "More like a prison."

HARVARD GRAD STUDENTS UNIONIZE: The students will join the UAW, which has become an unlikely champion of higher education workers. The union now represents grad students at five university systems, including University of Massachusetts Amherst and the massive California state university system, reports Katie Johnston of the Boston Globe.“The main thing that we really want is to have a greater say, greater democracy, in our working conditions,” Johnston quoted Ben Green, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in applied math, as saying.

A SLACK HEART ATTACK: Just the simple message “Hi!” for a boss on a Slack channel startles this employee. “I assume I’m getting fired,” writes Casey Johnston for The Outline. Keep scrolling down to the end of this story and you’ll find another fascinating piece: Why ads keep training you on the internet, by Paris Martineau.

PAY YOUR INTERNS: Kara Alaimo argues that all internships should be paid internships. A recent study of students at more than 60 American universities found that 36 percent don’t have enough food, and a similar proportion lack adequate shelter,” she writes for Bloomberg View. “These are not kids who can afford to pay to work."

'THEY WERE NEVER GOING TO LET ME BE PRESIDENT' An account of the Hillary Clinton campaign from Amy Chozick, who covered the campaign for 40 months, from July 2013 to the bitter conclusion around midnight on Election Night. At that moment, Chozick writes, "Robby Mook, the drained and deflated campaign manager, told his boss she was going to lose. She didn’t seem all that surprised."

What we’re watching


AFTER THE SHOOTING: The Washington Post continues its excellent “How to be a journalist” video series with a sobering look into how some of its reporters have covered mass shootings. The insights and lessons learned are worth exploring, and this is a master class.

New on poynter.org

  • Newsday wants to go from ‘voice of God’ editorials to convening.

  • Daniel Funke gives us 16 ways to debunk hoaxes on WhatsApp.

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