Quality Journalism and the Campus Newspaper
Last week the Rutgers-New Brunswick student community voted as a majority to continue to allow the charges for the campus newspaper, The Daily Targum, to be assessed on student term bills. It allows the Targum, the second-oldest college daily in the United States, to remain independent from the university.
The news about this vote reminded me about the importance of an independent press on a college campus, especially for students who intend to pursue journalism careers. An independent press cannot be told to retract a story when the reporting is accurate. A university administration cannot suppress the reporting, though it must be given the opportunity to express its views and respond to the story. An independent press is supposed to behave in much the same way as the local off-campus newspaper. In fact, at Cornell University, the campus newspaper, The Daily Sun, is also the daily newspaper for the college town: Ithaca, New York.
College students do not need a journalism education to pursue a journalism career. However, they need experience at journalism writing outside of the classroom. An independent press is more likely to offer this opportunity versus a campus newspaper that is tied to the communications or journalism department and its faculty.
The Targum, as one example, does not have a faculty advisor as student clubs do. Instead it has an editorial advisory board whose members are usually practicing editors or writers. Your local paper may have a similar board that considers the merits and legitimacy of a story or editorial opinion. Such a board also needs to consider the newspaper’s relationships with advertisers. An independent campus newspaper needs advertising to survive as well as subscriptions or student charges. Just like your local newspaper.
If your college-bound student is considering journalism as a possible career, here are some questions that s/he should ask when visiting colleges:
- Who advises the newspaper? It can be an independent board, as the Targum has, or it could be faculty in the journalism department. In the second case, the paper could be an extension of in-class work.
- How often is it published? Towson University’s paper, The Towerlight, (pictured above) is a very good weekly paper. So is The Breeze, the student paper at James Madison University. A daily offers more opportunities to write though a weekly often has very good feature stories.
- How is the newspaper funded? The Targum is funded through a student fee, voted by students every three years as well as through advertising revenues. Students can vote not to pay the fee–the referendum was voted down at three schools within the university where the charge will not appear on a term bill next year–if they object. Other papers are sold on a subscription basis. Still others are funded the same as any other student organization on campus.
- Are there other outlets where prospective reporters can perfect their craft? The Targum, for example, is not the only creative or news outlet on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus. In addition, the local newspaper hired juniors and seniors to cover local, including off-campus, events.
- How often does the campus newspaper run during the school year? I have visited schools, including Penn State-University Park and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where the paper is printed during the summer as well as the school year. There are enough students on campus to merit a summer edition.
- Is there an online edition as well as a print edition? The better papers, such as the Targum, offer both. It is hard to go exclusively online on a college campus that has a daily. College students are not likely to check university notices on a phone or iPad. They are more likely to check them if they grab a paper copy of the paper on route to class, meals, the library or socializing.
- Has the administration ever challenged the reporters and editors on a story, and what was the outcome? The most recent example was student news coverage of the former president of Mount St. Mary’s University and his proposed approach to freshman retention. The president and chair of the university’s board of trustees challenged the reporting, though they were proven wrong.
- Where have alumni of the paper gone after college? The Targum had started an alumni association midway through my education at Rutgers, and it has a pretty impressive list of alumni. Other papers have one as well. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, in particular, has produced an impressive roster of journalists.
The experience of being on a campus newspaper can be a very rewarding one, provided that reporters and editors have the opportunity to do as their real-world counterparts do, report the news accurately and fairly, without undue influence from a college administration, trustees or elected officials. The Targum, among other college dailies and weeklies, has the benefit of being independent, and placed in a position to behave as a real world paper would behave. Other college media outlets might not be as fortunate.