Editor’s Note: Support student media in honor of Student Press Freedom Day

By Ariana Portalatin

In April 2018, student newsrooms nationwide used #savestudentnewsrooms to advocate for student journalists and stress the importance of campus media. The campaign was launched in response to several problems, including backlash from schools—who often punish students for their coverage in the form of budget cuts, suspensions and censorship—and the same revenue declines facing city newspapers. 

It became evident that something needed to be done. So on April 25—unofficially known as Support Student Journalism Day—student media outlets including The Chronicle published content and led social media campaigns discussing why student press matters.

The Student Press Law Center, a legal resource for student journalists and advisors of high schools and colleges, initiated #StudentPressFreedom to demand support on Jan. 30.

Campus community members may feel unable to make a large enough impact outside of vocal support or donations, but there is actually a simple way: talk to us.

One benefit of a campus news organization is its ability to shed light on important issues. However, many of these stories remain untold if not shared with journalists. Students are left out of pretty much all things related to academic processes and faculty-related issues. If you don’t tell us, it’s unlikely we’ll know about them. Options to do this include submitting news tips, letters-to-the-editor or guest op-eds, and being willing to grant us an interview. Sometimes an emailed statement doesn’t allow for follow-ups or full context and understanding of a topic.

Additionally, many organizations have sourcing and interview requirements for each story. Depending on the story, The Chronicle typically requires at least three live sources, meaning interviews with people either in person or over the phone, for a story to be published. While each organization is different, these requirements help ensure the accuracy, fairness and objectivity of a story.

Employees are sometimes hesitant to speak to reporters for fear of retribution, even if a story is not controversial. It’s understandable that faculty and staff would be reluctant to be interviewed. However, interviews help stories get published, which means you are helping us inform our campus and become better journalists.

Punishing employees for speaking out is also not in the college’s best interest. The college would face criticism when word gets out, especially in the era of social media when stories go viral quickly, and the possibility of coverage from a larger news outlet increases significantly. Essentially, the college would be placing itself in a PR crisis.

Additionally, academic freedom enjoyed by tenured faculty, staff and other employees is also protected.

The 1935 National Labor Relations Act protects lower-level, non-managerial employees from abusive employment practices in response to advocating for better workplace conditions. The NLR Board has previously interpreted the act to include speaking to media because this is seen as a way of gaining public support for their cause.

A white paper released this month by legal staff from the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida details how the act applies to different businesses. According to the report, private educational institutions are exempt from the NLRA if they receive less than $1 million in gross annual revenue or are religiously-affiliated, neither of which apply to Columbia.

An important role of journalism is to give a voice to the voiceless, and a story’s impact is dependent on the voices it amplifies. Helping us publish meaningful work not only contributes to our educational experience, it contributes to the overall success of the organization and cements its significance on campus.