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Staff editorial: The Campanil’s role in the fight to #savestudentnewsrooms

In the Trump era, there are many ways in which Mills seeks to stand against toxic rhetoric that vilifies people based on things like race or gender. The presidential election of 2016 elicited emergency meetings, protests, and events from the Mills community demonstrating solidarity for those who stand to lose the most under Trump’s presidency. The school’s historic focus on women’s education and empowerment, which has evolved into a widespread mission towards gender and racial justice, puts us at direct odds with the goals of the Trump administration.

However, there are ways in which Mills has gone with the flow of popular discourse when it comes to some issues. We’ve been hit, like other schools, with the fallout of a changing intellectual and educational landscape in our country that has subjected us to budget cuts and the revaluation of what can make Mills economically tenable and relevant, given the some of the crises facing higher education.

Changes to Mills journalism department, and The Campanil as a result of these circumstances, have made us part of an unfortunate trend. Student journalists across multiple countries and numerous schools took to social media on Wednesday, April 25, to voice concerns and garner attention for the troubles that have been specific to student media in an era in which higher education and journalism are both facing economic and cultural hindrances. Using the hashtag #savestudentnewsrooms, student media outlets came together with staff editorials, op-eds and individual testimonies aimed at illustrating both the value of student news and what stands to be lost if student news outlets continue to lose support and funding from their schools.

“The whole idea behind the call to action day was to start a conversation about the state of student media in the US,” said Melissa Gomez, the editor-in-chief of The Independent Florida Alligator, according to CNN. “Some people who may be removed from the university and or their publication may not realize that student newsrooms don’t look like they did 20 years ago. Some of them have folded. Some of them are struggling to survive the next month. Others don’t really have a secured future. And we want people to be aware of that.”

While The Campanil has been more fortunate than some schools, in that we have been able to keep our paper afloat and that Mills has so far maintained its journalism minor, this hasn’t been sufficient to soften the blow of trends in both education and media that are detrimental to student journalism. As Mills and other liberal arts schools transition to become institutions that are run “like businesses,” and as higher education at large seeks to meet the desire for economic security from a generation traumatized by the 2008 recession, student journalism has come to exist in a world that sees it as both economically untenable and at odds with the economic goals of higher education. As CNN notes, struggles with funding for student media outlets are at direct odds with student journalists’ quest for editorial independence.

This is something that’s felt all too close to home for us at The Campanil. Student journalism is no walk in the park even under the best circumstances. However, without institutional support, the typical stresses of balancing coursework, reporting, and relationships at school have morphed into direct threats to the mental and physical health of our staff, our academic success, and the vibrancy of our coverage.

Following budget cuts to The Campanil in 2016 and the forced retirement of our adviser of more than three decades, Sarah Pollock, who will teach her last class at Mills this fall, we’ve spent the past two years in what feels like an uphill battle against our own institution, where we are paying just as much tuition and working just as hard as students in better-supported programs. It is the responsibility of Mills, as an institution that prides itself on social justice, to uphold and a support a program as important as journalism.

As it stands, The Campanil will live to fight another semester, and Mills is set to offer two journalism classes in the fall. Achy Obejas will be our new adviser, and there continue to be upper division journalism classes listed in Mills’ catalogue.

However, we were some of the last people to find out about these changes, and we only did so when the fall course schedule was released. In addition, Mills seems to have no plans of staffing or offering any journalism curriculum besides two reporting classes and podcasting. This means that although we have a journalism program on paper, we have little to offer passionate students, especially transfer students who have already done lower-division coursework in journalism. This, combined with the visible stress and exhaustion of our senior staff members, makes recruiting new staff and readers all the more difficult, and makes our future all the more uncertain. There needs to be more transparency from those who determine the fate of the journalism program. The journalism department and its students need not only survive, but flourish as well. 

Moving forward, we need a relationship with Mills’ administration and ASMC that doesn’t hinge on uncomfortable power dynamics that threaten the mental health of our staff and the editorial independence of our newspaper. We need an institution that understands our role and our mission, rather than one that sees us as a threat to its image and branding. 

 Aside from institutional and financial support, The Campanil staff needs established relationships with administration and school officials where we are respected as student journalists and not seen as the enemy. As the problems that #savestudentnewsrooms has drawn attention to make clear, threats to the well-being and continuation of The Campanil staff and Mills’ journalism department are far from isolated incidents in the broader world student journalism. But if Mills is going to use social justice rhetoric for branding itself, and if it’s going to seek to stand out from the pack of problematic schools that are struggling to find relevance in today’s world, it needs to distinguish itself from the silencing practices of other schools. Mills can’t claim to stand for truth, justice, or even education without standing for the free flow of information and transparency that student journalism seeks to maintain.