A couple weeks ago, an editor from Calvin College in Michigan called me hoping to get my thoughts on student journalists working in this era of media distrust. We talked about it for several minutes — how our office has taken extra safety measures in the wake of what our government says about news media, how our content falls under extra critical eyes.
I talk about this among my staff and other student journalists, but rarely is the subject of how important student journalism is shared outside this circle. Jan. 30 marks Student Press Freedom Day — so let’s talk about this, out in the open, because now is a more important time than ever for us to exist.
For context: Daily Cardinal staffers spend dozens of hours in the office laying out pages, editing stories, creating graphics, balancing our budget and much more. This happens between full class schedules, part-time jobs, involvement in other student organizations — and everyone is unpaid. I can confidently say there’s few student groups more dedicated to their purpose than a university newspaper staff.
We are wholeheartedly committed to what we do. We provide information to our niche UW-Madison community about subjects other publications overlook and prioritize matters relevant to students and faculty. We talk about national topics from an angle that helps students understand them and how it affects us. Campuses are different worlds filled with unique people and experiences, and we’re immersed in it. We have access to groups and information — and the ability to focus critical eyes on university issues — that are just a straw in a pile for major publications. UW-Madison needs us to hold our administration accountable.
Luckily, we have two papers on campus that do just that. The Badger Herald and The Cardinal are independent of UW-Madison, which prevents us from being filtered by administration, keeping us unafraid of telling campus-related stories that need to be shared. If student journalism was not needed, we wouldn’t be a campus with two impressive, competitive newspapers.
Just as important as information we put out to our community is the platform we offer students. We provide space for their voices, whether that be writing poetry for our almanac section or sharing thoughts on an issue through an op-ed.
We pride ourselves on being a learning institution — we welcome and encourage students who have never held a camera or written a concert review to try these things and more. We function like a professional newspaper and maintain professional quality in our work, but it takes a team to get there. We foster a collaborative learning environment in which peers work together to craft content for our publication, allowing us hands-on learning without a grade or salary looming over us.
Being a student publication gives us flexibility to play. Even more so, independence from the university allows us to do that. We can publish our monthly sex column, or start new collaborations, or write opinions about UW-Madison without issue. With that we can publish articles that spark positive change in our campus community. We can impact the university with our work more directly than major publications. We’re fed new ideas and skills each day in classes and beyond, particularly ever-changing ways we can tell stories and evolve along with news media. We have staffers from various majors, contributors with multiple talents and interests, and we’re able to let them freely practice creativity.
Without independent student press, university administrators would not be held accountable. Student voices would be stifled, and aspiring journalists or ad salespeople or designers would not have access to hands-on, peer-to-peer learning outside the classroom. The campus community would only receive information through one-sided mouthpieces and not be able to explore other sides of an issue or have as deep of a look into our local culture.
The Daily Cardinal has been a crucial part of UW-Madison for 127 years, and we, along with other student publications, aren’t going anywhere. As college students in the political climate where the media is painted as the enemy, we’re needed to keep our small communities informed and held accountable and then dive fully prepared to do this essential work in the world beyond.
Sammy is editor-in-chief of The Daily Cardinal. She is a senior studying journalism and creative writing. What impact does student journalism have on our campus? Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.