April 25 marks #SaveStudentNewsrooms action day: an annual day to support student journalism and discuss the challenges that come with it. The campaign, started by editors at the campus newspaper The Independent Florida Alligator in 2018, educates the public on the impact of student newspapers.
As a society, we must recognize the importance of student journalism. Student newspapers first and foremost serve the student body. We provide a platform for student voices and concerns, and we hold our universities accountable when independent opinions are lost in the administration’s inbox. We serve as an archive of our institution’s history: the good, the bad, the utterly human and everything in between.
Without student journalism, we would be left in an information desert. There may be local newspapers that cover university news or events from time to time, but none as focused on the interests of the student body and none as closely acquainted to their needs as a student-run publication. Additionally, those outlets may require subscriptions that some students would not be able to afford or willing to splurge on.
The Daily Free Press, for example, has offered full coverage of news relevant to the community since 1970. When Boston University students organized the sexual assault protest in February, we were there. When BU took down the protest posters and washed away chalk messages, we reported on it. When the University failed to adequately respond to the protest, we wrote an editorial on it.
The key here is the follow-up. Our news coverage is always on the student body — not simply when it is convenient or trending. Students look to us for coverage of issues that are important to them, and we hold that duty with honor.
If anything is echoing down Commonwealth Avenue, the FreeP is going to cover it. Local outlets don’t have that same responsibility.
FreeP has far-reaching implications as well, reporting on local city news and sparking conversation outside of our university. And we have provided comprehensive and comprehensible COVID-19 Data for BU and the state of Massachusetts.
Student newspapers across the country do the same for their universities — staying in tune with their communities, putting in countless hours of work and holding their institutions accountable.
This is why it is an extremely unfortunate reality that most campus publications struggle with finances. In extreme circumstances, publications have had to surrender their independence and re-affiliate with their universities to survive, while others have shut down entirely.
The challenges these publications face aren’t solely financial either — though that certainly plays a large role in inaccessibility and inequity. A lack of financial resources inhibits the number of students who can apply for a position at the paper and hampers our ability to expand news coverage, particularly regarding print.
At the most basic level, however, we deserve respect from our communities, the students we represent and the administration we hold accountable.
College student publications are typically held to the standards of professional publications yet seen as just a “club.” It’s evident the University reads our content and listens to us. However, there still seems to be a disconnect in how they treat us and talk to us.
Many times, college journalists aren’t always taken seriously, despite the caliber of work and the hours we dedicate to the job.
This respect and consideration must also come from within the publication itself. We have previously written about the mental stress and elitist culture that comes with working at a student newspaper. We cannot save student newsrooms if the operation of those newsrooms are unsustainable and stagnant in nature.
As a result of the toxic culture cultivated in student newsrooms, the workload, little or no pay and the poor communication that is often the result of disconnected layers of operations — staff writers, editorial board, board of directors — many prospective journalists or writers may be discouraged from joining or applying for higher positions.
It’s a catch-22: We don’t have enough staff, which means every individual has to take on more work to keep the paper running, but we need more students to join in order to reduce those hours in the first place.
For any BU students out there who are considering joining the FreeP, we are continuously working to make our paper more accessible, accommodating and supportive. We hope you will give us a shot.
It’s true — we do this out of sheer passion, and sometimes it can be grueling, unforgiving work. But that only highlights why we must financially and culturally support our student journalists.
To support FreeP, you can donate to the Editors’ Equity Fund so we can continue to support our editors and lower the financial barriers that prevent students from joining. In addition, you can aid student journalists nationwide by engaging with their content, websites and social media.
Rescuing student journalism doesn’t just entail saving us from bankruptcy — it’s also saving us from culturally disappearing into the folds of society. It requires respect from the outside and building a strong community and engagement from within.