We can’t afford to silence student journalism
College journalism persists in the face of growing violence and downsizing.
College journalism persists in the face of growing violence and downsizing.
This article contains various mentions of gun violence and sexual assault.
A freshman investigative reporter whose findings contributed to the resignation of Stanford University’s president. A Daily Tar Heel editorial staff that, after suffering a school shooting alongside their North Carolina student body, published a newspaper cover that moved the nation. The reporters from our own paper who, only two years ago, reported on a string of sexual assaults at a number of USC’s fraternities — and its lasting ramifications.
We’ve reached a pivotal moment for college journalism; time and time again, the voices — and stories — of the United States’ youngest adults have acted as a referendum on our society, particularly in the face of the worst crimes that can be committed. And yet, student journalism continually faces a decline in support, something that we recognize with the privilege of our publication being the only remaining daily print college paper on the West Coast.
Student journalism played an integral role in the investigation of Stanford University’s former president Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s published research papers and his eventual resignation. Freshman Theo Baker published this article for The Stanford Daily surrounding the controversy of Lavigne’s research in November 2022. Through his investigation of whether the published papers were photoshopped or otherwise altered, Baker went to Elisabeth Bik, a forensic image analyst, for help in uncovering the truth.
This collaboration unearthed discrepancies and led to an internal search into the former president’s work and falsities. Since 2015, Lavigne’s research has been under scrutiny due to frequent errors and reportedly altered images. Baker’s journalism was essential to finally putting the rumors of Lavigne’s work to rest and exposing the truth. Baker is one of many student journalists who aim to offer new perspectives, instigate change and foster reform within their institutions.
Aug. 28 marked the day a graduate student shot and killed associate professor Zijie Yan at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As more students became aware of the violent presence on their campus, the student body held its breath in terror. Throughout the lockdown, frantic text messages flew between loved ones and UNC students. These same messages built the harrowing front page of the Aug. 30 edition of The Daily Tar Heel.
The work of The Daily Tar Heel’s editors drew instantaneous nationwide attention. The sickening feelings felt throughout UNC’s student body were suddenly broadcast across the country thanks to the exceptional journalism displayed by The Daily Tar Heel’s masthead. Despite the terrifying circumstances, the unflinching dedication of these student journalists struck a chord with the public.
The impactful work of these student journalists extends to our own institution, which consistently provides coverage of issues vital to the USC community which may be otherwise overlooked by major news outlets.
On Oct. 25, 2021, the Daily Trojan’s Fall 2021 Editorial Board called for the abolition of USC’s Interfraternity Council following the string of druggings and assaults at Sigma Nu and subsequent reports of similar happenings at other fraternities.
The Daily Trojan also reported in the days after the incidents, shedding light on the DPS reports of druggings and on-the-ground coverage of the multiple days of protesting. These stories contributed to the national news coverage of the event, demonstrating how vital student perspectives are to bringing awareness to college life issues.
The board’s article connected USC’s long history of sexual violence and the complacency that has followed to the institutional issues within Greek life. As both a scathing indictment of USC’s negligence and fraternities as well as an empowering testament to the power of student voice and perspective, it affirmed survivors of sexual violence in a way that the University would not — and ultimately did not.
In the words of the University’s own Statement of Policy for the Operation of the University of Southern California Daily Trojan, “[The paper] is recognized as one of the principal means of bringing student concerns to the attention of the faculty and the administration and of formulating student opinion on various issues on the campus and in the world at large.”
For more than 60 years, STU 421 served as the Daily Trojan’s home. Last fall, the University announced plans to reorganize the Student Union’s fourth floor, which included moving the Student Publications offices. The Fall 2022 senior editors — those first informed of the plans — tried to create a dialogue with the University. Through this, some lost space was regained, but the fact still remains that we were forced out of our long-loved home.
The paper was given no choice but to move out of our long-beloved offices. In doing so, the offices of the Daily Trojan, El Rodeo Yearbook and Student Publications were downsized by about 40%. Over the summer, the University promised the offices would be ready in time for the new school year.
But when the school year arrived, we were given a temporary space in the Trojan Events Services’ offices at Tutor Campus Center. The semester began and our move was continually delayed. The temporary space, while we are grateful to Trojan Events for sharing, was never ours. We were limited to just a few working computers, outdated production software and a space that wasn’t ideal for collaboration between editors. While our new newsroom — just over a week old — has quickly become cozy, the entire process has left us worried about the value of journalism — or lack thereof — in today’s media world.
A report published by Challenger, Gray & Christmas found the media industry cut 17,436 jobs from January through May 2023. This is the highest year-to-date total on record, surpassing the previous high of 16,750 in 2020. The industry, as a whole, is being devalued, with news organizations continuing to downsize. We’ve already felt it here on campus, and it seems it’s only continuing to take a turn for the worse.
Following the announcement of the Daily Trojan’s move, the Editorial Board of the Daily Bruin — UCLA’s student-run newspaper — wrote in support of continuing to uplift student journalist voices.
“When we fail to support student publications, we not only stifle young voices but also risk losing a vital pipeline of talent to the broader field of journalism,” the Daily Bruin Editorial Board wrote.
Student journalists are driven by passion, not profit. We understand that we won’t be rolling in riches, but it’s disheartening to see the stark contrast between our dedication and the little support we receive. Minimum wage might seem like a distant dream, but what we didn’t sign up for was being relegated to the shadows. High school journalism was a glimpse, but college? We expected more.
As journalists, freedom of the press is one of the only powers we possess. But it’s not truly free when students are paying the price with their time and energy to speak up for others. We’re not asking for the world; all we want is recognition, support and respect.
In a diverse, multicultural campus, student journalism often serves to bridge voices together. However, that becomes significantly more difficult when we’re scouring campus for resources and to pay our editors and staffers what they deserve.
In an attempt to limit any conflicts of interest, the Daily Trojan and other college newspapers, such as The Daily Orange and The Daily Tar Heel, do not receive direct funding from their respective universities. Funding for the Daily Trojan, primarily comes from donations and our ad revenues.
On campuses beyond USC, student newspapers resort to asking their student government for funding. But more often than not, this rarely gets approved — especially when the student government isn’t too fond of the paper’s coverage of them.
The only thing we truly own are the words we publish. From camera equipment to pens, everything the newspaper uses to create content are borrowed or handed down from generations past.
Last semester, former editor-in-chief Sage Wheeler forfeited his stipend to help the paper along with new initiatives the staff and masthead wanted to accomplish during the semester. The newspaper was beyond lucky to have an EIC like Sage, but no editor-in-chief should have to give up the money they worked hard for just to help the paper stay afloat.
Even further, our own writers have reported on the state of financial affairs within our hundreds-large staff — editors work up to 40-hour work weeks on top of their school obligations or other clubs, getting nowhere near hourly pay, and writers are paid $15 for articles that can take full days to write, edit and publish to our site.
The most urgent issues that young people face today are mired not only in frustrating political inaction, but in the repudiation of student voices who seek to do something about those issues. College journalists, along with student leaders and young activists, are not merely students preparing for our careers. Nor do we deserve the pressure of being inspiring saviors for a world suffering from the missteps of previous generations.
Instead, we are young people actively and unavoidably living through those injustices. We create the pace of change because we must. When violence occurs, the institutions that hold power must give voice to the young people who are most affected by it. Without intentional support for the invaluable work of student journalists, we are left not only with the work of advocating and spreading awareness on our behalf, but fighting for the right to speak up at all.
We are the only independent newspaper here at USC, run at every level by students. That means we aren’t tied down by any other interests but those of readers like you: the students, faculty, staff and South Central residents that together make up the USC community.
Independence is a double-edged sword: We have a unique lens into the University’s actions and policies, and can hold powerful figures accountable when others cannot. But that also means our budget is severely limited. We’re already spread thin as we compensate the writers, photographers, artists, designers and editors whose incredible work you see in our daily paper; as we work to revamp and expand our digital presence, we now have additional staff making podcasts, videos, webpages, our first ever magazine and social media content, who are at risk of being unable to receive the compensation they deserve.
We are therefore indebted to readers like you, who, by supporting us, help keep our paper daily (we are the only remaining college paper on the West Coast that prints every single weekday), independent, free and widely accessible.
Please consider supporting us. Even $1 goes a long way in supporting our work; if you are able, you can also support us with monthly, or even annual, donations. Thank you.
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