Editorial: Democracy needs student media, so support student newsrooms


The social media campaign #SaveStudentNewspapers calls attention to the challenges that student-run media organizations face and highlighting the need for student media was started by student editors at The Independent Florida Alligator. 

Twentieth-century playwright and essayist Arthur Miller once said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” 

And we can also say of our student newspapers, “It is a campus talking to itself.”

Many college students are proud of their rights and are quick to verbally defend them. Yet, in a time when national rhetoric screams “Fake news!” to discredit journalists, we must remind ourselves of the importance of student newspapers, because they are where democracy begins.

If student newspapers are lost, that will be where democracy ends. Career professionals cannot hope to know how to fight, or have the will to fight, their government for rights and freedoms if they do not first learn to fight their educational institutions for those same freedoms. 

Students newspapers, like any professional newspaper, report on powerful people, policies and politics to make a difference in the world. Earlier this year, for example, the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee reported that 37 professors and staff members had been accused of sexual assault and harassment over the past five years. The Kernel has its own similar experiences.

READ: UWM Profs Accused of Sexual Assault & Harassment But Details Hidden

When former UK Associate Professor of Entomology James Harwood was accused of sexual assault and harassment, UK refused to release requested documents to the Kernel or the attorney general’s office, making a clear statement that the university would not be transparent.

READ: Kernel obtains withheld records; victims say UK trying to protect professor in sexual assault case

The ensuing lawsuit that the university started against its own paper showed the university’s need for student accountability more than ever before. More than that, though, it showed the resilience and courage that UK student journalists have— attributes shared by student journalists across the nation. 

READ: University to sue Kentucky Kernel in an effort to appeal Attorney General’s decision 

Across our nation, student newsrooms have to fight for their very existence as independent sources of news. Some have to fight to remain independent from their respective institutions. Many have to come up with creative ways to raise revenue because other forms of funding are being taken away. At the Louisville Cardinal, for example, the administration canceled a long-standing commitment last fall to purchase thousands of dollars in ads from the paper, leaving the Cardinal at a loss for funding for the simplest of journalistic endeavors. 

This war being waged by student journalists is not to be taken lightly. If it were up to the UK administration, the Harwood case would have been quietly dealt with, and the public would be none the wiser. One of the problems with governments on every scale is their deliberate efforts to keep the public in ignorance, whether it be a campus community or a whole nation. 

What distinguishes our country’s media from countries like North Korea and Saudi Arabia is freedom of the press. Since today’s Kernel reporter is tomorrow’s New York Times journalist, we must not hesitate to show the same diligence and support for student journalism as we do for our large-scale news media. 

We would not hesitate to be enraged if, tomorrow, our U.S. government announced an incentive to monitor all news, from the Washington Post to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Why, then, do we sit idly by while student newspapers face similar impositions from institutions in power? Student journalists have to fight this oppression often, proving that campuses are the boot camps for activists. It should also serve to remind us that we are here for more than coffee, classes and late nights spent studying. We are here to learn how to challenge those in authority and leave a positive mark on the world. 

If our institutions in this country, even at small levels, can infringe on our right to free speech and a free press, our democracy begins to fail. Freedoms are never lost in waves; they are lost one drop at a time. Universities across this state and nation have proven that their interests lie in silencing their student press. Now more than ever, student media must be strong, resilient and supported. 

Time and again, the Kernel and other student newspapers stand between the public and corruption and prove that student journalists need school papers to prepare for their next roles as global watchdogs. Our paper represents our campus conversation, and we have the right and privilege to decide what we say to ourselves, to our institution and to the world. Let’s diligently fight, at all costs, to keep that right, our independence and our student newsrooms. Let our conversation be one of freedom.

In honor of this unofficial Support Student Journalism Day and #SaveStudentNewsrooms, we invite you to invest time and effort to learn from us and teach us, to report news to us so we can report it publicly and to actively engage in our newsroom. Help us protect our newsroom, so we can protect this university.

This editorial is in accordance with the social media campaign #SaveStudentNewspapers and recognizing the unofficial Support Student Journalism Day, April 25. This campaign to call attention to the challenges that student-run media organizations face and highlighting the need for student media was started by student editors at The Independent Florida Alligator. Read more on the Save Student Newspapers website.