Editorial Board: Nationwide, and at USC, we must #SaveStudentNewsrooms

Di Wu | Daily Trojan

We’re angry.

We’re angry that in a political climate in which newspaper subscriptions are up, trust in institutions is down and critical journalism in just the past year has created social waves and mass movements, universities like Southern Methodist University are choosing to take away the independence of their student newspaper the Daily Campus.

We’re angry that universities, which purport to stand for ideals like diverse thought and knowledge, suddenly oppose this when it comes from student journalists.

But mostly, we’re angry that we have to have this debate at all — that student newsrooms are important and worth preserving. Every school deserves an independent student press. We must #SaveStudentNewsrooms.

We, at the Daily Trojan, were reminded of how fortunate we are when the news broke that the Daily Campus would lose its independence and become re-affiliated with the university as a result of financial struggles. As an independent student organization, we are one of a minority of student newspapers in the nation that prints five days a week. Yes, as student editors, we experience grueling production nights, work between 20 and 40 hours in the newsroom each week and occasionally clash with a sometimes adversarial University, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Student newsrooms are voices to power. If we do not have student journalists on campus to ask the difficult questions and hold the University, community leaders and the student body accountable, then we do not have an institution of higher learning at all. The journalism we and campus newspapers across the country produce is important, and it is not up for debate whether universities would be able to be as self-critical without independent student newspapers. Without Syracuse University’s Daily Orange, videos exposing racist practices during a fraternity initiation may have never been published, and the school may have never taken action. Such practices may have continued on indefinitely. Without The Daily Californian, we may have never seen — in live time — the violence and vitriol that erupted when conservative speaker Milo Yiannoupolos came to speak on campus. And without the Daily Trojan, interactions between former USG President Austin Dunn and a conservative nonprofit accused of meddling in student elections, and stories of low-income Exposition Boulevard residents who have been displaced, may have never received public attention.

Student newspapers across the country are not just recording the histories of their schools; they are shaping them and challenging them, striving to make them better. What student journalists do is a public service to students, the university and the general public. And universities, ours included, need to start acting like it. At USC, we are fortunate to have one of the most prominent journalism schools in the world at our disposal — the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. In this past year, the journalism school received a 19 percent spike in applications, with students eager to report on the societal microcosm that is the University.

And yet, it’s disappointing that the journalism curriculum at Annenberg fails to support student journalists at the Daily Trojan and, consequently, students interested in pursuing a career path in print journalism. Journalism students previously had the option to work either at the Annenberg Media Center or at the Daily Trojan newsroom to fulfill class credit, but about five years ago, the restructured curriculum eliminated that choice, leaving the Media Center — which produces predominantly broadcast and digital content — as students’ only option. As a result, our newsroom has become stretched thin in recent years. For putting out five issues a week, we are severely understaffed. Students who are on our staff and also study journalism are forced to crowd their schedules with work at the Media Center, their course loads, any outside campus work and their work for us in order to report for Daily Trojan. It’s a decision not many students would choose to make, and a concession student journalists shouldn’t have to make.

And that’s not to say the work done in the Media Center should not be applauded. The student journalism that comes out of Annenberg is comprehensive and has impacted real change at the University. Their newsroom deserves to be preserved just as much as ours, the Daily Campus’ and student newsrooms across the country. But students who are motivated to pursue student journalism and want to work for student media should not be punished or ostracized for not wanting to do so on the University’s — and, specifically, the Annenberg School’s — terms.

We’ve been told our student newsroom hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years. We occupy the corner office on the fourth floor of the Gwynn Wilson Student Union building, in a direct standoff with the Bovard Administration building that is located across Hahn Plaza. From 5 p.m. until the early hours of the morning, student journalists and editors toil away to create a product we are proud of. Sundays through Thursdays, we are hunched over newspaper proofs and typing away at our computers. We leave the newsroom after the sun has set and most students have long left campus. The building lights are off, Trousdale Parkway is quiet and the Daily Trojan editors scatter.

Then, unbeknownst to us, at the end of each semester, we finally look up after sending the last issue to the printer. We look around, and we realize that the Daily Trojan is not just a paper — it never was — it’s our family. It’s our community. It’s our newsroom.

If we stand idly by as our peer publication’s newsroom falls into jeopardy, then we may as well be giving up on our own. And anyone who’s ever met a student journalist knows we never give up.

We stand in solidarity with the Daily Campus. We stand in solidarity with student journalists across the country. And we will stay standing until we #SaveStudentNewsrooms.

Daily Trojan spring 2018 Editorial Board