OPINION | College journalism still matters

Lily Mae Lazarus, Views Editor

A student journalist's workspace
College newspapers are powerful institutions of accountability. (Gabe Darley)

The feeling of reading a print copy of a newspaper is irreplicable. The textured paper stamped with black ink holds immense power, often unrecognized by younger generations. With digital media replacing many of the sacred forms of the press, it is important to remind ourselves of college journalism’s importance and necessity on campuses such as Tulane University. The desideratum for all journalism is best summarized by the Washington Post’s motto: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Although college newspapers do not function as great defenders of liberty, they are a microcosm of the application of the First Amendment’s protection of the press. College journalism matters because without it universities and students lack a form of accountability uncorrupted by the administration and their peers.

Some may wonder why, in the age of Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, college newspapers are still relevant. However dramatic it might seem, the press is part of the U.S.’ core elements. Prior to the thirteen colonies’ declaration of independence from Great Britain, the British government prohibited the publication of unflattering information and opinions in American newspapers. A free press is essential to democracy because it functions as an institution of accountability for the government to its people. It also serves as a nucleus of ideas and a vehicle for expression and information. The Founding Fathers considered a free press one of the pinnacles of liberty, hence why the freedom of the press was included in the Bill of Rights as a part of the First Amendment.

An overview of ethical journalism is useful to best understand how college newspapers embody a free press’ purpose of being an institution of accountability and a marketplace for ideas, expression and information. Ethical journalism fulfills five principle qualities: truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, and accountability.

To address the tenet of truth, college newspapers provide a space for students to educate themselves using salient facts oftentimes neglected on social media or overlooked by university administrators. Furthermore, accuracy and factualness allow college papers to disseminate information from reliable sources apart from universities themselves.
Independent college newspapers are free from financial ties to their universities. This allows organizations like The Tulane Hullabaloo to operate outside of the confines of typical student organizations. Meaning, independent college newspapers can speak out against universities, condemn unethical behavior and discuss taboo issues often neglected by on-campus officials without fear of administrative retaliation. 

In terms of fairness and impartiality, ethical college newspapers do not cherrypick information. Rather, these organizations place equal worth on all sides of a story, so as to to publish balanced and contextualized content. These characteristics recognize that objectivity is not always possible, but impartial reporting is necessary in building trust and confidence in a publication. 

Most importantly, ethical college newspapers teach and practice accountability. In honoring their pledge to report accurately and impartially, writers are responsible for any errors they commit. However, college newspapers not only hold their staff accountable for their actions, they also hold universities accountable for their behavior. Regardless of who perpetrated an injustice on campus, college newspapers have a duty to report on it. Without this, administrators, faculty and students alike would not always have to face the consequences of misbehavior.

College students deserve to be heard. According to a College Pulse survey, only 6% of college students feel comfortable sharing their perspectives on important issues with campus officials, and only 21% of students speak up about issues of importance to them in college. This leaves many feeling silenced and in need of a vehicle for communication.

College newspapers provide a space in which students can express their opinions and ideas without the fear that their words will be lost among masses on social media or disregarded by campus officials. Students should believe that their voices matter. Not only do college-age adults understand contemporary social phenomenons better than older college administrators, they also have the ability to connect with others their age via shared experiences. This builds a community where individuals move away from being bystanders and towards being active participants in critical dialogues.

In an era defined by socio-cultural divides, misinformation, and systemic injustice, institutions that foster togetherness, education and accountability merit support and recognition. As newspaper circulation around the United States declines, student journalists are battling the information desert by reporting on off-campus experiences. College students have a right to be well informed by their peers so as to form well-rounded opinions on subjects relevant to their lives. Although idealistic, it is far more fulfilling to participate in progress than it is to remain unchanged amidst a revolution.