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Editor’s Note: This editorial was published as part of the #SaveStudentNewsrooms day of action April 25. To learn more about the movement, visit savestudentnewsrooms.com.
For nearly a century, The Ball State Daily News (formerly The Easterner and The Ball State News) has kept those at Ball State informed about what’s happening on the campus and in the surrounding communities.
Over time, our publication has covered important news events including presidential campaigns, natural disasters, student governmental affairs and university controversies. In 1982, Daily News reporter Don Yaeger was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of conflicts of interest in university investments.
Today, The Daily News remains an independent, student-run newspaper. Students are at the forefront of all editorial decisions, and neither faculty nor university officials can, nor should, dictate what or how we publish.
The staff has recently reported on a wide array of topics: the resignation of a former university president, an investigation into Ball State Fact Book data errors, the 2017-18 Interfraternity Council “social pause,” on- and off-campus sexual assaults and implications of felonies on faculty members’ records.
We’ve won numerous awards for such work, among them Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Awards, College Media Association Pinnacle Awards, Associated Collegiate Press Pacemaker Awards and Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards.
However, many student newspapers at high schools and colleges across the country are not independent, meaning their stories, photos and other content is often required to undergo prior review and censorship. Sometimes, student journalists in these newsrooms are even prohibited from publishing important information regarding their schools.
When student newsrooms lack editorial independence, they cannot properly inform their campus communities. Everything students in these circumstances publish is forcibly cloaked in university bias, and by requiring prior review of content before anything publishes, factual reporting — which at times can be critical of the school or its officials — is lost.
Student journalism is just as important as the work taking place at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Indianapolis Star, The Muncie Star Press and so on — real journalism is real journalism. We are protected under the same First Amendment rights, we follow the same Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and are held to the same standards as full-time journalists. We take those responsibilities seriously.
The Daily News operates as an independent publication, however, we still face challenges — some of which have the potential to disrupt the nature of our independence.
For years, reporters and editors at The Daily News have struggled to acquire information from Ball State’s administration as a result of its lack of transparency.
Most recently, the university’s marketing and communications department attempted to implement “guidelines” which would directly affect the work of student journalists. On Sept. 20, 2017, vice president for marketing and communications Kathy Wolf met with Daily News editors to introduce and discuss details about such.
According to the proposed guidelines, all requests to interview or gather any information from faculty, staff or students would have been required to go through university media relations for approval. This would have meant any time Daily News reporters needed to speak with anyone on Ball State’s campus for a story — this is the case for numerous reporters each day — they would have had to obtain prior approval from the university. Although not explicitly stated in the guidelines, students and university employees who do not follow the outlined expectations could have faced repercussions.
While these guidelines have thankfully not been implemented, our reporters continue to face issues accessing university administrators for stories and accessing information in a timely manner.
Like many other newsrooms, student and otherwise, finances have also posed a challenge for The Daily News.
Last August, we reduced our print schedule from three print days per week to one. We joined dozens of other student newsrooms in doing so.
Additionally, due to budget cuts, we have continued to reduce wages for those working on our staff. To date, only 11 out of 17 members of the editorial board are paid minimum wage, and not a single reporter, staff photographer or videographer on our staff receives payment for their work. The volunteer nature of our newsroom continues to limit the number of students who are able to work with us, and it further limits our breadth of coverage.
Taxpayer dollars help Ball State operate, and students’ hard-earned tuition provides the rest. Good democracy calls on the free press to operate a system of checks and balances in order to hold our government — and our university — accountable. Without our independence, covering how exactly this money is used and how our university operates would not be possible.
The Daily Campus newspaper at Southern Methodist University recently announced, due to lack of funding, the paper no longer has editorial independence. Other publications have come close to doing the same, or shutting down their operations altogether.
In the wake of these events, student-run media organizations across the country have started to come together to bring attention to the challenges we face, as many of us are continuing to fight to maintain financial and editorial independence under university administrations.
We are also uniting as editorial leaders to highlight the need for student media and importance of supporting it.
Today — and every day — The Ball State Daily News supports student journalism and will fight to ensure our newsroom and others have the editorial independence necessary for reporting on what’s happening on and around our campus. Without such, the Fourth Estate will not exist.