As student journalists, we’re here to serve the 7Cs and inform students of what’s happening on our campuses. We love reporting the news and making the newspaper every week.
But lately, we’ve been having trouble doing our job.
The schools have varying media inquiry policies — most lack a formal one and don’t explicitly say we can’t contact staff or administrators directly. But in nearly every case, the sources we reach out to individually at Claremont McKenna College, Scripps College or The Claremont Colleges Services don’t answer our questions and instead redirect us to their communications departments.
TCCS is the only entity that officially denies in-person interviews, but both CMC and Scripps also typically deny our requests. It’s worth noting that CMC is responsive, yet they still don’t usually let us talk to administrators directly or in-person.
Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College and Pitzer College tend to be more open with letting us directly contact any of the aforementioned individuals in any way we’d like.
Because of these restrictions, our reporters often aren’t able to get in-person interviews with the people who have the information we need, or sometimes, any answers to our questions at all. Instead, we get bland statements, filtered through communications officers rather than frank, honest answers.
We understand there are instances where the information we want might not be available due to laws, privacy concerns or other reasons. But when students are being directly affected by the decisions being made, they deserve to know what’s going on.
Specifically, a few weeks ago, when we found out Student Health Services started operating solely as an urgent care facility, we needed to talk to officials who made the decision to understand what was going on and why. This story was especially important since it affected nearly everyone on campus and occurred just as flu season began.
We were fortunately able to get an in-person interview with one administrator, Janet Smith Dickerson, vice president for student affairs for The Claremont Colleges Services, by walking into her office after sending an email.
She gave us a clearer picture of what happened, confirmed facts and answered our follow-up question, but only because our reporter took the initiative to go to her office since she didn’t trust that the statement Dickerson would later send would answer her questions.
Deans from Scripps, Pomona and Pitzer also responded to our inquiries, but avoided answering our questions and instead gave us unhelpful blanket statements or referred to the statement TCCS put out. We didn’t receive any response from HMC and were in contact with CMC, but never received an official statement from them.
The following week, we wrote a follow-up story and reached out to all the deans again. We didn’t hear anything from any of them until nearly a week later.
Just hours before we started producing our print paper for the week, TCCS sent our reporter an email statement. They contradicted their statement from the previous week to say SHS had decided to stop scheduling routine appointments alone, instead of in consultation with any of the deans, as they had previously indicated.
Mudd, Scripps and CMC never gave us on-the-record statements. Pitzer directed us to the TCCS statement, and Pomona answered one question via email.
As reporters, our job is to find the truth and report it. This goes beyond merely printing statements released by administrators or student groups — it means being persistent and fighting for the answers students deserve.
So when we receive two statements from the same source which directly contradict each other, our job demands we investigate to find out which statement is actually true. But after sending TCCS a follow-up email to clarify, we didn’t receive a response.
Two TSL reporters spent all afternoon visiting different offices and trying to clear up the discrepancies between the statements. At TCCS’ office on First Street, they found the spokesperson, only for him to tell them they had to send all inquiries through email, a request with which they had already complied, to no avail.
They were finally standing face-to-face with the person who could answer their questions, and he refused. He deferred to the statement he had already sent them, which didn’t answer the questions asked. He also said if they asked the same questions again, they would get the same answers — even though they didn’t actually answer our questions.
The reporters later sent him another follow-up email, and he didn’t respond until the following day, and then only told them TCCS had nothing more to say. They should’ve been able to meet with someone in-person, or at the very least, talk over the phone to clear up the confusion and ask more questions.
But they weren’t, and as a result, we’re still unclear on who decided to stop scheduling appointments at SHS and other important information. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it likely won’t be the last.
To put things in perspective, we work 30-plus hours a week to put out a newspaper and also go to school full-time. We frequently skip class or turn in assignments late to try to track down sources or do interviews, because we always want to get it right. That’s why it’s so frustrating when administrators aren’t willing to cooperate with us.
We don’t enjoy having to print corrections, and the best way to ensure we’re getting the correct information is to let us talk to the people who know what’s going on. We also strive to follow the same ethical standards professional journalists follow. On that note, if we’ve reported something factually incorrect, show us proof and we’ll be happy to fix it.
When subjects are sensitive or controversial, in-person interviews are especially critical because the stakes are higher. Being able to talk to people in person, ask follow-up questions and clarify uncertainties helps us ensure we’re getting the story right.
Additionally, allowing us to directly reach out to administrators or staff members and conduct interviews, whether over the phone or in-person, can alleviate stress or work of the colleges’ spokespeople who can spend hours chasing down the right people, coordinating schedules and getting answers. Then, they have to do it all over again if we have follow-up questions.
So, let us do it instead. It’ll make all of our lives easier.
We want to have good relationships with these administrators and be able to work together. But we can’t do that if they aren’t even willing to talk to us, respond to our queries or meet us halfway.
We just want to do our jobs. Please let us.