Here’s something that most people don’t know about The Whit: at the end of every semester, editors receive stipends that would be illegal if they were given to us in hourly increments.
Depending on position, stipends range between $250 and $400. Every Wednesday, we typically spend a minimum of seven hours in our 6 East High St. office for production alone, with 10 to 15 total hours not unusual.
At 12 issues each semester, this is 120 to 180 hours. The hourly rate is thus between $1.39 and $3.33. If Rowan were to cover the entire annual cost of The Whit’s editor stipends right now, it would come to under $7,000 for our entire staff.
The real kicker is that, if we want to get compensated at all, we must raise that money ourselves by selling ads. When it comes to compensating us for our work, Rowan University doesn’t provide us anything.
There’s a potential joke about this experience preparing us for the reality of the journalism industry. Indeed, Rowan University failing to offer any (let alone fair) compensation for Whit staff is a microcosm of a culture that fails to value journalists’ work, labor and time.
It’s not as if Rowan does not have money for supporting students. Student Government Association (SGA), the organization which currently allocates all money for The Whit, offers tuition reimbursements to both its president and vice president to recognize their many hours of work to the university – though it cannot allocate funds to students outside of SGA itself, apparently due to an amendable part of its own constitution. Admissions ambassadors, tutors and students who contribute to the Rowan Blog are also paid legal wages.
Meanwhile, peer institutions such as Montclair State University and Rider University offer full tuition reimbursements to their newspaper editors in chief and managing editors.
Through this editorial, The Whit wishes to open a dialogue with the administration, SGA and any other entities who may be able to improve what feels like an outdated and inequitable situation, to advance the treatment of student journalists.
The most obvious strategy to fund Whit editors may be to alter the SGA constitution to allow compensation beyond its own membership — though this raises questions of whether SGA is the correct organization to be funding The Whit at all. While the relationship between The Whit and SGA may have once made sense to allow student journalists to maintain financial independence from the university at large, there should exist a third option.
For example, Montclair University’s student newspaper, The Montclarion, is funded directly through student tuition. Similar to the way newspaper subscribers pay a subscription fee, each student pays a few dollars as part of their regular tuition to support their student newspaper. In this capacity, The Montclarion isn’t accountable to either Montclair’s administration or its SGA; it’s accountable to the entirety of its student body, and thus its entire core constituency.
For Rowan’s 16,000 undergrads, The Whit’s entire current operating budget — including all stipends — would add less than three dollars to annual tuition costs.
Clearly, Montclair and Rider Universities understand the need for their communities to support high-quality public information. The coronavirus pandemic reveals this now more than ever. The stories told by student newspapers are personal, reflect the students themselves, meet real community needs and ask questions that the university itself may not think to ask.
A newspaper exists to encourage transparency and accountability. The Whit has no impulse to gloss over facts with a veneer of PR. We can thus meet our responsibility to amplify experiences of our community’s most vulnerable members.
Another reason to support compensation is that The Whit serves as a historical text for the university. All physical print copies are kept in university archives. A great primary source for historical research, they record the student consensus as well as the events themselves.
The Whit is vital to understanding Rowan in a nuanced way—and Rowan understands the value of archiving issues and pays staff to maintain and organize those records. Why should Rowan not provide the same dignity to the work of the students who assemble the actual text?
Moreover, Glassboro itself has no local newspaper; The Whit fills that role, currently for free. While The Whit focuses mostly on university-related news, we are looking into expanding our coverage to reflect the greater Glassboro community. However, to do that, we would need a beat writer and ways of supporting that beat writer.
Finally, if Rowan paid Whit editors, ad revenue could go to Whit writers, who take on the challenging task of weekly reporting in addition to their course loads and regular classroom assignments.
When writers get paid fairly and equitably, they produce better work because they don’t have to take on other jobs to financially support themselves. Better work would allow us to better cover Glassboro, as well as to write more intimate stories about the Rowan community.
While we encourage consideration of student tuition support for The Whit, we also acknowledge a potential fourth option. In 2020, Jean and Ric Edelman donated $10 million to support Rowan students pursuing communication and creative fields. This donation is a great opportunity for many Rowan students to receive scholarships that would otherwise be elusive to them. It also raises the question of whether the university should attempt to attract large donations for the primary purpose of supporting student journalism staff.
If Rowan and its related organizations aren’t open to discussion on how to support students who perform professional-level journalism, Rowan sends a message that we journalists should get used to being underpaid and undervalued. Funding the training and development stages of journalism means nothing if students do not leave Rowan University as professionals empowered to see the value of their own labor.
If Rowan Blog staff and members of SGA aren’t expected to be doing their work merely “for experience” or “because they’re passionate about it,” why are those of us on The Whit expected to financially suffer in stoic silence?
We publish an entire newspaper every week and an online digital media operation daily, win various awards for our efforts and provide a necessary service to tens of thousands of people, and we believe that the barest form of recognition – fair compensation – is long overdue.
The Whit is important to the university, to the Glassboro community and to the ecosystem of college newspapers across the country. The Whit is important to students, staff and faculty alike. The Whit is important, and it should be treated as important. We are still publishing in the middle of a pandemic because it is important and necessary to do so. It is our responsibility.
We hope Rowan University feels the same responsibility to support us.
For comments and questions, tweet @TheWhitOnline.