Across the country, student newsrooms are facing a crisis.
We at the Collegiate Times have been lucky. In the last few years, we have not faced any attempts at censorship from Virginia Tech. The university has never threatened to cancel our relationship agreement. We have been allowed since 1991 to keep our newsroom, rent-free, in 365 Squires Student Center. Our revenue is stable; the Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, our parent nonprofit, is healthy.
But that is not the case on many other campuses.
The Daily Campus, a student-run newspaper covering Southern Methodist University, recently announced that its independent publishing company will dissolve in May due to slumping revenue. The physical print newspaper will cease production and exist only online.
At North Carolina State University, a university similar to Virginia Tech, the Technician will print only once a week next year and drop its circulation to 4,000 per week in an effort to save money. Many of the largest student newspapers at Virginia schools, including The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia, The Breeze at James Madison University and the Collegiate Times, have already made that move in recent years.
The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is considered one of the best student papers in the country. Earlier this semester, it had to move offices in response to a changing financial landscape.
At the start of this academic year, we reduced our print schedule to weekly. The closure of The Roanoke Times’ printing facility led us to print our paper with the Bristol Herald-Courier. This increased our delivery costs, in addition to printing rate increases from the Times’ and Herald-Courier’s parent company, forcing us to make a business decision to save quality and print just once a week.
These stories are not isolated, and they are going to keep happening. And although we at the Collegiate Times are confident about the future, we are unsure what it will look like.
Student newspapers are vital to higher education in many different ways. They keep university officials accountable and conduct investigative journalism on a local scale. They keep students connected to the broader campus community.
Student newspapers also provide a forum for critical conversations. After a video of the women’s lacrosse team singing a racial slur gained national attention, we have provided an outlet for university officials and students to discuss the implications of the incident. The front page of this week’s paper features a story about a new living-learning community focused on the African-American experience and a letter to the editor dissecting the usage of “n-----” and rebutting a previous column on the subject.
Student newspapers are an invaluable training ground for the journalists of the future, giving students real-world experience in running a newspaper. When done correctly (as in, students are compensated for their work) they can be an equalizer, giving students from a wide range of backgrounds the opportunity to get their foot in the door in journalism.
But student newspapers need help to continue to be able to do that. University officials need to continue to appreciate and respect the importance of an independent student press. The death of student newspapers would be detrimental to campus communities. Colleges and universities can do a lot to help support newspapers, for example, by providing spaces for newsrooms and making officials available to talk with student journalists.
When the opportunity comes up, contribute financially to your student newspaper. If you own a local business, buy an ad in the paper or online edition. Even if you can’t contribute financially, just picking up a paper and sharing stories on social media helps. If you’re a student, join. The Collegiate Times is open to students from all years and majors, and we’d love to have you.
Together, we can preserve the tradition of student journalism for generations of students to come.
Editor’s Note: This editorial was published as part of the #SaveStudentNewsrooms day of action on April 25. To learn more about the movement, visit savestudentnewsrooms.com.