Student media still necessary

Campus towns around the country are known for their diverse and active student populations that bring various cultures together in one place.

For state schools especially — operating on the taxpayer’s dime — the university becomes the heart of the community, providing jobs, education and pride for the region. With that array of culture, comes news.

As students, we sometimes aren’t taken seriously in the eyes of our superiors. However, as student journalists, it is our mission to shatter this preconception and prove the ability to report the news is based on accuracy and experience, not age.

In an April 13 article in the New York Times, Jennifer Conlin declared student newspapers have become the most valuable source of news in college communities. According to the article, there are roughly 1,800 American college and university newspapers, while there are only 1,380 daily newspapers left in circulation in the United States. The article also cites student newspapers’ ability to break news with investigative journalism. When the University of Michigan football team recently became involved in controversy, it was the student newspaper that broke the story, not the local paper.

There is something to be said for students’ ability to uncover information on a college campus.

A breaking news story came out of SIU’s Daily Egyptian this year. The search for the new university president had suddenly come to a screeching halt, and rumors were flying about who it was go to be. Nearly eight hours later after digging up many aspects of Randy Dunn’s life, the DE published the story online on a Friday night. The next Monday, the Board of Trustees announced Dunn as SIU’s next system president. I have many memories as editor-in-chief of the DE, but that day will stand out forever.

It wasn’t the local paper that broke the story. It wasn’t the university’s PR firm. It was the students who got the information, backed it up with facts and shared it with the world.

Despite administrative attempts at a top-down, tight-lipped communication model, we as student journalists have direct access to sources that local reporters don’t: our fellow students.

The Daily Egyptian also came under fire for a sports story and opinion piece that followed. The stories criticized basketball coach Barry Hinson for removing two players from the team by “advising them to transfer” in order to free up scholarship space to bring on his hand-picked freshmen.

What all those angry commenters on the website didn’t know is that the entire DE editorial board published an editorial months earlier backing coach Hinson after his nationally publicized rant at Murray State. We believed — what the university wanted us to believe — that he was what SIU needed, and what we stood for.

But what we see outside of the locker room isn’t always how things work on the inside. Student athletes are students first, and athletes second. Despite the thousands of dollars that their hard work and dedication bring to the university, their coaches and staff members don’t want them to have a voice, unless it is pre-approved. I got plenty of angry calls and emails that day, calling for the firing of that reporter for bringing the university into a bad light. However, the truth of the matter is, I would have fired him had he not written it. We are not in the business to keep the university in a good light. We’re in the business of telling the truth.

Unfortunately for Hinson, or any other hotheaded university pubic figure, the DE answers to one principle, and one principle only: the First Amendment.

In writing the basketball story, the reporter talked to the players, who had a right to tell their story. They had a right to tell the world that they didn’t initially want to leave the team. One player even asked Hinson to his face, ‘What do I have to do to stay on the team? Tell me what I need to work on.’ But the decision already had been made, and his “family” of a team was being picked apart, piece by piece.

Yes, transfers happen all the time in college basketball. But the frequency of a bad practice doesn’t make it a good one. The students had something to say, and the student newspaper was the only place willing to listen.

Whether it’s sports, or politics, or environmental issues, a college campus thrives because of its students, and those students have an invaluable voice. While journalism is an evolving field, it is far from dead. Student journalism is essential to the success of a college campus. Students are the core of a university; without us, the faculty, administration, coaches and buildings themselves would be entirely useless.

The Daily Egyptian has been the voice of the SIU student body for nearly 100 years, and it needs to stay that way.

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