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Student journalism at Mills: What we’re up against

Student journalism on-campus is vital to the representation of student voices. Journalism at Mills is, and has been, under threat because of the structural opposition to the success of student-run publications such as The Campanil. 

The publication of student voices and student reporting of news should not be devalued. The opportunities for reporting include both local and campus-related news, the coverage of artistic events, discussion of editorial opinions and general opinions from the community. While Mills has undergone some drastic restructuring in recent years, some of the attempts at campus-wide dialogue have left students feeling in the dark, frustrated with the directions and the rhetoric of the administration, and has even caused many students to transfer. Arguably, greater transparency could be made possible if news could be regularly published by a diverse and well-supported student newspaper.

The Campanil does not receive adequate funding to achieve this level of professionalism. As it stands, The Campanil has the budget to hold bi-weekly productions and print physical newspapers. Our online platform, regardless of the brilliant contributions of technologically savvy students and editors both recently and over the last few years, is in great need of an upgrade—which requires software and time commitment that exceeds the budget. This is detrimental for the long-term goals of editorial staff to increase the relevancy of the content published by The Campanil.

The budget also poses difficulty for paying student journalists and reporters. The fact that editors are paid a stipend for each semester of participation is a good start, acknowledging the time and commitment that editors dedicate to the newspaper. However, a limited budget and the lack of payment for reporters means that writing and reporting for The Campanil is extremely inaccessible to many students. A large amount of Mills’ undergraduate student body are commuter students, as well as resumers and parents, and funding would make it realistically sustainable for a student to do the work that The Campanil demands. A lack of diverse voices is another barrier for The Campanil, as attempts made last year to recruit more students as reporters were largely unsuccessful.

Last year, two editors attempted to bring up the issue of The Campanil’s lack of diversity in the newsroom. At the time, they were the only two students of color on staff and had discussed this issue with other staff members as well as the faculty advisor at the time, Sarah Pollock. Both Kanani Cortez and Sam Barnett had planned strategic initiatives to be honest about The Campanil’s historic and continuing whiteness. These initiatives come along with the frustration that many of the decisions about funding and support made by the administration result in limitations on The Campanil’s ability to remain relevant for students on-campus, but none of these decisions seemed to address the actual problems The Campanil faces. 

Attempts to find solutions were taxing and disillusioning—the onus of diversifying the paper should not lie solely with the students of color on staff. A fantastic discussion of this issue can be found in the Columbia Journalism Review’s Fall 2018 article Diversity as a Second Job by Vann R. Newkirk II. As he writes, efforts that are “a start for translating moral support into material support” are vital to the advancements of journalists of color in newsrooms across the country. The lack of student representation was one of the criticisms The Campanil received from students in our 2016 budget meeting in front of Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) before The Campanil’s budget was cut almost in half two years ago instead of supporting student-led initiatives to increase the representation on staff.

Instead of cutting funding, the administration could do to more to change that institutional structure to support The Campanil’s efforts to diversity staff. For instance, working with The Campanil could be an option for credit within the English department or many of the other humanities departments on-campus. Additionally, better funding and mentor support—from advisors or alums—could help make working for The Campanil professionally and financially sustainable for students to work on staff and further their journalistic experience by being able to attend conferences—conferences that in the past have served to supplement the lapses in departmental provisions. 

In addition to these threats to student-generated on-campus journalism at Mills, there is a lack of journalistic education in the course catalog. This semester, there are only two journalism and reporting-related classes being offered. Students who are familiar with the journalism minor can attest that this class offering cannot support an authentic pursuit of these studies. Most of the current staff of The Campanil gained their experience in high school, or in years before the budget of The Campanil was greatly reduced by the ASMC. Although Mills suggests students cross-register in order to make up for limit course offerings, the difficulties of actually enrolling and succeeding in a class at another institution is a subject that The Campanil has covered in previous issues. 

Although it is easy to simply point the finger at the lack of college administrative support for journalism, attacks on journalism and reporting are sadly prevalent in the political climate under the Trump administration. One would hope that this reality would serve to strengthen Mills’ commitment to promoting the study of news, reporting and institutional accountability that represent the best potential of student-run newspapers on college campuses. 

Kanani Cortez, formerly a first-year at Mills, is now living and working in Oregon with plans to eventually attend the University of Oregon to study journalism. I caught up with her to ask about her decision to transfer out of Mills last year, and about her experience with student journalism at Mills. Following are some of the highlights of our conversation. 

What was it that first brought you to Mills? What was your involvement with The Campanil?

I came across Mills while in high school. My academic counselor highly recommend Mills to me due to their commitment to social justice. He had thought I would fit in well at Mills and due to my financial standing I could receive significant aid. Mills was not at the top of my list, but I could not afford any other schools, so I thought Mills would be my best bet. I had also toured the campus and really enjoyed the environment, and I was also in SAW where I met some really great people so I felt I had a great initial interaction with Mills until I started to realize that all the resources I needed were not available. While on The Campanil I served as the Sports and Health editor during my first semester, and as the Assistant News Editor during my second semester. While working on The Campanil I really enjoyed my time with the other staff, but I soon realized that there were not enough resources for us to be learning and successfully publishing the newspaper with quality journalism. I soon felt like my writing was not improving, nor was I receiving any mentorship since the department was undergoing transitions. I was unsure if my expectations were too high or too low, since this was my first exposure to higher education, but I knew that I wasn’t getting enough.

Why do you find journalism important? What was your experience as a journalist/editor before coming to Mills?

I think I was exposed to journalism at a very young age. I look back at my childhood and 99 percent of the time that I spent with my father he was holding a newspaper. He used to hand me the comics sections, and once I was older he would hand me news articles. By the time I was in high school, and had the opportunity to be involved in more social justice spaces, I realized that my love for journalism could also be a tool for social justice. Now when I look back on my father’s dedication to reading the news, I see how important it was for him and others in marginalized communities to have access to information, but also for there to be journalists in the industry to pass the mic.

In the course of your year, what was your experience with academic and administrative response and support to student journalism?

Academically, I was very disappointed with the course offering. There were only two classes being offered my first semester, and as I inquired about the future of the department I was told that I should not expect more classes in upcoming semesters. So I thought to myself, “why am I spending over $15,000 dollars at an institution that is not offering me sufficient courses for my future career?”

Quite simply, I came to Mills because I wanted my degree and I wanted to leave well-equipped with the confidence and knowledge that I would be able to engage in journalism as a career, and it became clear in my one year there that that was not going to be a possibility for me. I was deeply disappointed because I felt like I had walked in blindly because I did not know what to look for in a college. When I was selecting a school, I thought that Mills would be able to support me because it offered a journalism minor and I was told that the journalism department and student newspaper were very active.

While they do have those things, I think I was very misinformed about their resources—which is part of a larger issue in which Mills markets itself inconsistently with the resources they have available for students.

Administratively, I felt that The Campanil was constantly fighting for credibility as journalists from the administration and that there were times when our requests for information or interviews as journalists were not being taken seriously—but I understand that is an issue for all journalists in any context—yet we were also met with criticism about the content and quality of our reporting.

I felt as though I was in a limbo where I wanted to actively write and report for The Campanil, only to be not taken seriously, and unable to improve on my journalistic abilities due to insufficient training and mentorship. During my time at The Campanil I saw my fellow staff members work tirelessly to deliver quality content while working for a newspaper that was hanging by a thread.

What are you hoping for in your education as a journalist?

First and foremost I want a degree and the education to prepare me for a future career where I can support myself. I hope that while pursuing my degree within these next few years that I will have the freedom to simply learn in an environment where I receive professional development opportunities and get some bang for my buck!