Pandemic underscores importance of student journalism

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh|Daily Trojan

Student journalists across college campuses are helming worthy efforts to cover developments amid the coronavirus pandemic. From quarantines to fall reopenings, student journalists have wielded their voices — and their power — to champion comprehensive and nuanced coverage about the next generation’s experience in unprecedented times. 

It goes without saying that even without the pandemic, student journalists have been and are always doing important and necessary work covering their communities. Yet, at a time when college campuses are under scrutiny for their plans to address the coronavirus by national and international news, student journalists have the firsthand perspective and insight about the workings of their campuses. The pandemic has only highlighted this fact as student journalists who have important stakes in their coverage argue for awareness and accountability on their campuses.

Along with the Daily Trojan’s own coronavirus coverage, which disseminates timely and relevant information about the coronavirus to the student body and public at large, student newspapers at college campuses across the United States are engaging in initiatives to inform the public about college reopening plans. 

Student journalists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Daily Tar Heel, for example, played a pivotal role in motivating the university to move all classes online. After a series of cluster cases on campus, student journalists quickly condemned the college’s decision to reopen in an editorial. UNC moved classes online a few hours later. 

Other student journalists, such as Eli Hoff at the University of Missouri, have reported on a fraternity member testing positive, a cautionary warning about Greek life gatherings during the pandemic. Some have turned to implicitly calling peers out for partying, while more have reported on the quarantine experience. It’s clear that student journalism represents not only sheer coverage but also a way to call attention to real social, cultural and political issues using the microcosm of the college campus. 

With the adaptation of new, interactive digital modes of reporting, many student journalists have demonstrated their ability for real-world learning amid Zoom University. For student journalists, the greatest “lesson” for the semester may arguably be adaptability, which is a necessary skill not only in each aspect of journalism but also in every area of life. 

While it might feel self-referential to cover news that directly affects students themselves, student journalists underscore the importance of community news and local reporting. By focusing on the specificity of the communities that are most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, student journalism comes from a unique vantage point where the content of coverage influences the very students who are reporting it. 

Student journalists occupy a unique position in the media and have the capacity to make substantial contributions to the field of higher education news. However, it is important to look beyond student journalists as working within the label of merely “education” and instead critically examine how student journalists can serve a professional role in advocating for the student body and communities at large. 

Professional journalists may have a lesson to learn from student journalists, who are redefining journalism as a whole. Recommendations about how to best improve college plans may shy away from the frequently mentioned notion of journalistic “objectivity” and reveal a new dimension of journalism as it relates to current times. The idea of journalism as conducive to real, tangible change is one that has become increasingly prominent with student journalism’s role in holding institutions accountable and engaging with new perspectives amid the pandemic. The Washington Post even lauded college newspaper reporters, calling them the “journalism heroes for the pandemic era.” 

Ultimately, student journalists have always been and will continue to be an increasingly important force for change. It is more necessary than ever to respect student journalists and their work because the headline of today may just lead to the necessary actions of tomorrow.