Chat with the chief: Supporting student media

If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty high chance that you respect and support student media.

But, because I know many of you may not, let me explain to you why you should.

Wednesday, Jan. 30, is Student Press Freedom Day, a day to recognize the hard work of student journalists, support your local college media organization and show why student journalists deserve the same press freedom as other outlets.

Plenty of college newspapers are censored by their school’s administration who don’t want any “bad news” of the institution to be displayed. I know one editor in chief at a private university who was recently censored for publishing an article that included some not-so-positive quotes from a member of the administration. Although the quotes were 100 percent accurate and entirely put into context, the administration was upset about the article and wanted the newspaper to face consequences.

Luckily, this isn’t an issue that we commonly face at the Torch. We are an independent newspaper that is fully created for and by the students. We have a faculty adviser who can help with some things per our request, but he typically doesn’t see any of our content until its already online or in newsstands. Sure, we’ve faced many complaints for a variety of different reasons, and we choose to address those in our own way. However, if something we publish is truthful, fair and accurate, we’re not going to take it down, no matter how much someone dislikes it. We’ve been asked before and we typically refuse. And frankly, we shouldn’t have to.

Student-run newspapers are a fundamental feature of any college campus. Often, they are the first (or one of the first) to report major campus news. They also are more likely to report major campus news in depth, rather than just an initial “breaking news” report. Furthermore, student journalists cover different topics than one may see in a local city’s newspaper, as the topics of interest often vary from those of the general public.

Since I began at the Torch in 2017, I’ve seen all of these factors come into play during our reporting. Interim Sports Editor Cora Hall wrote an investigative piece on marijuana use at Ferris back when she was a news reporter. Hall also wrote several in-depth reports on the Ferris Faculty Association contract negotiations and strike this fall semester. We had various sports reporters and editors working to cover Ferris men’s basketball’s national championship victory, as well as Ferris football’s national championship loss. In our opinions section, Torch photographer Kaitlyn Kirchner opened up about her diagnosis with borderline personality disorder, a column that received a lot of attention across campus.

Although a lot of this coverage isn’t “positive news,” it is still newsworthy. A university’s administration should not have the power to prevent student journalists from reporting the truth about the institution just because the truth isn’t pretty.

Of course, the Torch is not the only student newspaper who does coverage like this. Central Michigan Life (Central Michigan University) and The State News (Michigan State University) are phenomenal in their coverage of campus news. Outside of Michigan, I turn to some papers like The University Star (Texas State University), The Daily Texan (The University of Texas at Austin) and The Spectator (Valdosta State University, Georgia) to see what they cover and for inspiration on how to improve as a journalist. It’s crazy what a bunch of student journalists can do.

College media often covers news in a unique manner, because as student journalists, we have different experiences, different references, different interests. Many of the articles produced by student journalists are distinct from others in the area, and none of this would be possible if people strip the press freedom from them.

So even if you’re just picking up the paper for the monthly satire insert, or to read about who won Saturday’s basketball game, or to see your own headshot in the news section after being interviewed, I’d strongly encourage you to support student journalism. No matter what university or what form of media, student journalists work countless hours behind the scenes to keep students in the know about what’s going on at their school.

Today’s student journalists are tomorrow’s professional journalists. Support them. Give them the press freedom they need and deserve in order to report news that matters to you in the best way that they can.