Campus journalism is vital at any university. Maybe I sound biased, as someone who has worked on The Brandeis Hoot the past four years. But if anything, my experience with The Hoot has shown me that campus journalism is not understood enough.
Especially in my role as Editor-in-Chief this year, I have learned that students see newspapers as the enemy. We are insensitive, we are on power trips, we are disconnected from the needs of students, we are not doing “real journalism”—I have heard all of this.
Maybe the problem is a distrust of media in general, but I think there is something unique to campus journalism that makes it especially critiqued. Student reporters are not just journalists—they’re also classmates, roommates, members of your sports club or performance group. The campus bubble makes it so that we report on the campus that we live and study in, profile the student body we are also a part of and critique administrators who affect our college experiences. This is different than a journalist on a city paper, who has a separation between work and life, and who does not have such a limited sphere to report on. They do not live in the same residence hall or take the same introductory science courses as people they report on. Of course, the politicians they report on directly affect their lives—but this is very different from the campus bubble and the precarious role of being a student journalist.
What I’ve seen above all throughout my college career are rampant misunderstandings of the function and purpose of journalism. We report on campus events because that is our job. People don’t get to choose what becomes news—if it happens, it’s news. And newspapers have an obligation to report it.
Without campus journalism, who would keep the administration in check? Investigate misconduct, mishandlings, wrongdoings? De-code and explain novel-length emails sent from Liebowitz? Just like in our day-to-day lives, whether it be through Facebook articles or the New York Times, everything we find out is because of the news. And as student reporters, it is not just wanting to share news when we feel like it or if we think something is important. We report out of obligation to uncover stories and inform our community.
I have also considered writing, “Opinion articles do not represent the opinion of the newspaper” on my forehead.
And despite our connection to the student body, we are often not seen as students and peers, but as The Newspaper—capital N—and no longer students. This is difficult, and something I have struggled to reconcile, and I don’t know how to improve this. I think there needs to be greater understanding and empathy on both sides, and overall for a greater awareness of journalism’s purpose. Student reporters are not faultless either; journalistic ethics is a fine line that has been crossed in the past. But I will never be convinced that this means student journalists are maliciously intending to harm their peers or that they should take a step back from reporting.
What I am positive about is that we are fortunate to be one of the country’s unique campuses that has two undergraduate newspapers. I hope two papers always remain on campus. I hope an attack on journalistic freedom, like the recent proposal to de-charter The Hoot, never happens again. A threat against campus journalism is a threat against free speech, free press and any attempts in curbing the power of the administration.
The greatest lessons I have learned at Brandeis have been outside the classroom. I learned that my best semester at Brandeis was my semester abroad. The idea that college is “the best years of your life” is patently false. And The Hoot, especially being in a leadership position, has taught me more than any other commitment on campus. I hope students years from now still have the chance to say the same.