Editorial: College newspapers are valuable – and need your protection

The Whit needs the same support that all college publications need. -Staff photo/Ashleigh Albert

If President Donald Trump is good at anything, it’s making news headlines. If there’s one thing college journalists are good at, it’s being scrappy and persistent in our reporting.

It makes perfect sense to The Whit staff that college journalists would play important roles in disseminating breaking news across the current political landscape. And that’s exactly what happened on September 27, at 9:13 p.m., when the Arizona State University (ASU) student-run paper, The State Press, broke a national-scale story regarding Trump’s recent impeachment inquiry.

The story was no small tidbit or puff piece: Kurt Volker, (now-former) head of the McCain institute at ASU, resigned from his position as a diplomat amid speculation that he was involved in discussions between Trump and Ukraine. The consequences for public awareness of this story may be huge, as public opinion dictates a lot in policy-making during election years such as 2020.

In an interview with Teen Vogue, State Press co-managing editor Andrew Howard explains that he never intended for the story to have national impact: the news team just wanted to do their jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“We were having a conversation with the editor in-chief, and I said, ‘Volker works at the university, let’s talk about his general involvement in this as a way to localize this national story to our community,'” Howard told Teen Vogue.

As impressive as it is that students got the chance to enter the national news cycle, entering the national news cycle also comes with the kind of increased scrutiny that most college publications just aren’t prepared to field.

Take, for instance, some of the comments on the State Press website:

A comment chain on The State Press’s report on Volker.
Another comment on The State Press‘s website, criticizing their coverage of the Volker resignation.
Commenters also accuse State Press journalists of fabricating information.

There are merits to hyper-local news, but it’s easy to sometimes forget that all things hyper-local are connected to those on the national scale. Nothing exists in a vacuum. For the students involved in State Press, this kind of attention may be more than they ever envisioned or bargained for.

The Student Press Law Center has named 2019 the “Year of the Student Journalist”, by which they refer to protecting the First Amendment rights of student publications. While The Whit has experienced some minor controversies over hot-button issues related to Rowan, never has suppression been a major worry for staff. Instead, The Whit and its staff have received comments more similar to those above: those taking aim at the credibility and character of stories and of the publication as a whole.

Administrator Robert Zazzali called the Whit’s coverage of the sports bra incident “inaccurate media reports”, despite the fact that the Whit was actively working with administrators to represent their side of the issue.

News reporters and writers have to be tough against criticism. But when in college, those who lobby the harshest criticism against news outlets are often those who hold some modicum of power over the writers themselves. And usually, this is done when the writer speaks out against abuses of power in the first place.

ASU is lucky that they have a supportive network of readers and a community which protects them from unfair scrutiny. It’s what allows writers to feel safe enough pursuing difficult stories, and getting to the bottom of important issues. That’s the whole point of a college newspaper.

At The Whit, we’re incredibly lucky to not have to deal with suppression of our First Amendment rights to free press. We’re equally lucky to have a community of readers and contributors who encourage us to keep writing those tough stories, in spite of the adversity.

The Whit staff aspire to reach the national impact of ASU. While we’re working towards that goal, keep offering the support that makes the more local stories possible.

We need you.

For comments/questions about this story, email editor@thewhitonline.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline.