OPINION: College Presidents, It’s Time To Support Student Journalism

In spring 2017, I worked as editor-in-chief of TSL. The position was rewarding and challenging; I got to build leadership skills, interact with TSL writers, photographers, designers, and editors, and contribute to the print and online content we produced each week.

Unfortunately, I also had to devote much of my time and energy to justifying the existence of TSL and its approximately $20,000 annual operating budget to student government representatives and other potential donors.

Throughout the semester, my co-editors and I launched a petition, spoke to administrators, and continually met with student government representatives, all in an effort to increase our budget allocation from undergraduate 5C student governments so that we would be able to continue printing TSL. In the end, we were only able to print this year with the help of an anonymous donor.

Student journalists should not have to fight so hard to justify their publications’ survival at the Claremont Colleges, institutions that pride themselves on promoting freedom of expression, open dialogue, and student engagement.

It doesn’t have to be this way. By establishing a joint fund for student publications, the 5Cs could create more stability for student publications and end the publications’ reliance on student governments.

Certainly, this shift would require the colleges to commit to preserving the editorial independence of student publications. But with mechanisms for accountability and transparency in place, it would be preferable to the current system, which permits student governments to use student publications as pawns in their own political disputes.

In addition to signaling a commitment to free expression, reliable support for student journalism would allow publications to invest in educational programming, improve the quality of their publications, and recruit new staff members.

The colleges should also take responsibility for paying student journalists, which would make it much easier for less affluent students to have equal participation in student publications. Until fall 2015, all TSL staff members were paid. Now, only senior staff members — about 20 percent of all staff — receive compensation for their work. While TSL staff members hail from six of the 7Cs, the labor budget comes entirely from Pomona College.

Institutional support for student journalists would benefit the broader campus community by increasing opportunities for dialogue and raising the quality of on-campus discourse.

With greater financial independence and educational support, student journalists might devote more resources to major investigative stories like the Wabash report, which described Harvey Mudd College students’ and faculties’ views on work-life balance as well as racial and gender diversity. TSL’s publication of that report last spring led to campus-wide protests and increased dialogue about issues like mental health and diversity at Mudd.

Moreover, the practice of journalism not only promotes public dialogue, but also aligns with many of the goals of a liberal arts education. Student journalists engage with campus communities, consider others’ perspectives, weigh ethical considerations, and think critically about on-campus issues, all while improving their writing and communication skills.

Kellen Browning PO ’20 is a managing editor for TSL who has taken two journalism courses with Claremont McKenna’s government lecturer Terril Jones, one of the few professors who teaches journalism for journalism’s sake at the 5Cs.

Browning said that journalism has improved his communication skills and his ability to “make connections between different pieces of information.”

“Thinking critically is something you can do a lot better if you have some training it,” Browning said.

The liberal arts were originally intended to prepare students for participation in civic life. In today’s political climate, the ability to create, understand, and evaluate media is critical to that participation.

Courses like those taught by Jones have demonstrated the value that journalism education can bring to a liberal arts environment.

Jones, who began teaching at CMC in fall 2015, said that he has witnessed an increase in enthusiasm for journalism from students and faculty over the last two years.

“Students as well as faculty are much more aware of the power of media, the effectiveness of the media, the necessity of it,” Jones said.

Due to the lack of educational resources for aspiring journalists at the 5Cs, TSL has often taken on an educational role, training staff members and hosting workshops on journalistic topics. Students come to TSL when they want to explore journalism as a potential career, learn editorial skills, hold institutions accountable, and express their opinions to peers in a public forum.

As the Colleges continue to expand journalism-related courses, they should consider how faculty and staff can collaborate with student journalists to improve educational programming and publication quality. Educational support from faculty and staff would make it much easier for TSL to implement meaningful journalism programming and professional development that goes beyond practical training.

In combination with stable financial support, this educational support would enable student publications to do reporting that raises awareness, promotes dialogue, and leads to institutional change.

If the Claremont Colleges truly place importance on open inquiry, dialogue, and accountability, they should take responsibility for ensuring that student media organizations like TSL have the funding and educational support they need to thrive.

Most of us here at the Claremont Colleges value the role of journalism in our society. We need to start recognizing the value it provides to our campuses as well.

Lauren Ison PO ’18 is an Economics major and a former editor-in-chief of TSL. If you have feedback on this article, send her an email at lauren.ison@pomona.edu.

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