Archive for March, 2019

SPJ Region 5: Student Journalists Fulfill a Vital Role at Universities

The editorial board of the Loyola Phoenix, the student newspaper of Loyola University in Chicago, recently published an editorial criticizing the university president and the school’s department of marketing and communications for intervening in interview requests to faculty members and others. 

The editorial also said emailed responses from the school’s marketing department often answered student journalists’ questions in canned marketing language, leaving little opportunity to follow up.  

“Loyola is more than a brand,” the editorial board wrote. “It’s a university. Its priority should be keeping its students safe and keeping them educated. There’s no better group to do that than the students themselves.” 

After the editorial received substantial attention, Loyola’s department of university marketing and communications clarified that faculty and staff may respond to requests from journalists, including students, without going through the marketing department. A university task force is being formed to review the school’s media policies.

Loyola student journalists aren’t the only ones facing resistance from university administrators. Student journalists at Taylor University, a Christian school in Indiana, founded the Student Press Coalition after the school blocked a negative story about a former professor’s lawsuit. In the coalition’s survey of student journalists at Christian colleges and universities, three in four respondents said they or their publications had faced pressure to change, edit or remove an article after publication. Cassidy Grom, a co-founder of the Student Press Coalition, received SPJ’s Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award in 2018. 

Nor are the problems limited to private schools. The University of Kentucky sued its student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, challenging a state attorney general’s ruling that would require administrators to disclose information about a sexual misconduct investigation of a former professor. (The case is pending before the Kentucky Court of Appeals.) Western Kentucky University filed a similar lawsuit against student newspapers over disclosures related to alleged sexual misconduct. 

All this comes at a time when student journalists are filling in gaps left by the waning of local newsrooms. As newspapers in smaller markets shrink their coverage, student papers are providing valuable community news. The Pew Research Center found in 2014 that students made up 14 percent of all statehouse reporters. 

The 2016 report “Threats to the Independence of Student Media,” endorsed by the American Association of University Professors, the College Media Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Student Press Law Center, notes that 

A college or university campus is in many ways analogous to a self-contained city in which thousands of residents conduct their daily lives—drawing on the resources of the institution for housing, dining, police protection, medical services, employment, recreation, and culture. Student journalists keep watch over the delivery of these services, giving the members of their public a voice in the matters that concern them most. 

University administrators should recognize that student journalists play a crucial role in informing students, faculty and staff about what is happening in their community – both good and bad. Student media are not an extension of university marketing. Their independence is critical in helping their audience understand and make educated decisions about university life.

Amy Merrick
SPJ Region 5 Coordinator

Al Cross
University of Kentucky

Tom Eblen
President, Bluegrass Professional Chapter
Lexington, Kentucky

Mike Farrell
University of Kentucky

Indiana Pro Chapter


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