Campus reporters impeded
By Rebecca Jordan
Rebecca Jordan is editor-in-chief of The Hudsonian.
This article was first published Dec. 24, 2016 in the Times Union.
Being a student journalist isn’t easy. There are the conflicts that journalists with all levels of experience face, such as unwilling sources, short deadlines and sleepless nights. However, students deal with challenges that journalists don’t usually encounter in the professional world.
College in itself is plenty for a student to handle. There are academics and social lives to maintain, as well as the constant turnover and training of new staff in addition to putting out a quality news product to their college community.
The biggest problem, though, isn’t the time commitment or lack of skill that many student journalists face. Oftentimes, college administrations pose the biggest threat, as many seem unwilling to let their student media organizations work in peace.
At Hudson Valley, the Hudsonian receives its money from the student senate. The senate is in charge of distributing the flow of money from student fees and responsible for approving the annual budgets for each club on campus.
This means that our student newspaper receives its money from the very organization it reports on, which is a conflict of interest. With the constant threat of losing funding and compensation, the dilemma presents itself: Do we report the truth and risk angering those who control our cash flow or do we sugarcoat our messages and play it safe?
During the last few weeks of the spring 2016 semester, the senate tried to completely take away our compensation, saying it was “unfair” we be the only club receiving financial compensation for our members.
During the period when we were deliberating with the senate, administration illegally withheld the paychecks of two of our members for work they had already completed. Although the administration eventually released these paychecks, a battle ensued.
We managed to keep our compensation when all was said and done, but they put limits on the amount our members can be paid based on tuition and financial aid. We’ve gone through forced constitution changes every year for as long as our adviser can remember, and we barely avoided elimination when the vote came up again this November.
A lot of this stems from a misunderstanding the administration holds about the service that student newspapers around the country provide for their campuses. Student media is one of the sole sources of information on campus events, the inner workings of administration and all issues that affect the student body. No one covers the news that we do.
Colleges are essentially paying their student media organizations for a product. They pay to have researched information about their campuses and students relayed to them in a coherent format, and they pay for the long hours worked on this product.
Instead, campuses have a tendency to see the service as reversed. In the minds of college administration, students should want to put in long hours to gain the experience of working on a newspaper. We should want to freely give up valuable time that could be put into schoolwork or a job, and we should thank them for allowing us to do so.
Working on producing the Hudsonian has brought me great joy, in addition to the constant struggles. I am blessed with an amazing staff that works tirelessly to produce the award-winning Hudsonian student newspaper. I have learned the ins and outs of newspaper production, as well as acquired writing, leadership and political skills.
But we can no longer ignore the state of student journalism at universities and educational institutions across the country. The University of Memphis’ The Daily Helmsman had $25,000 cut from its budget in 2012 as a result of a series of stories it published that uncovered free tuition benefits for student government members. In February 2016, the paper’s adviser was fired at Mount St. Mary’s University when the student paper published a quote from the academy’s president comparing struggling freshmen to bunnies that should be drowned.
The education system was created to give students the experiences and information they need to succeed in life, but instead, we are putting access to that knowledge out of reach. We say that they have the freedom to speak their minds and write the truth, yet those who do not like the truth will make every effort to stifle our voices. As the voice of our student bodies to the administrations that represent us, the next generation of leaders will not be silenced.