Save student newsrooms: The fight for editorial independence

A 1988 editorial cartoon depicts then President Alexander Kern attempting to muzzle the Herald. Kern had proposed installing a faculty editor who would have the final say in what the Herald publishes. 

The Issue: The Daily Campus, the student-run newspaper which covers Southern Methodist University, recently announced it had to re-affiliate with its university due to lack of funding. The closing of Student Media Company Inc., the independent company which will soon cease to publish SMU’s student newspaper, is leading to concerns from student publications at universities across the nation that declining advertising revenue will lead to university censorship of student free speech.

Our Stance: The College Heights Herald, which made the switch from publishing twice a week to once a week this past semester mostly due to the university taking over half of its reserve budget to cover its own deficit, is already experiencing university censorship in the form of a lawsuit, all while remaining independent from WKU. We need to support student media now more than ever as a growing number of student publications are fighting to maintain financial and editorial independence from their respective universities.

The Herald is just over one year removed from being sued by WKU after Attorney General Andy Beshear ruled that the university had to turn over records of faculty sexual misconduct to the Herald, citing that WKU has an ongoing responsibility to release Title IX records related to sexual harassment by university employees.

This ongoing lawsuit, which began to move forward last month after the attorney general’s office filed a motion for a summary judgement, is a pure example of the university trying to censor information which affects student safety from the public and a violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act. All of this is taking place while the Herald currently retains financial and editorial independence from the university.

Can you imagine what coverage of the lawsuit would be like if the Herald did not have editorial independence and the university was allowed a final say over what could be published? Anything that might make the university look bad to the public could be taken out, even on controversial issues like sexual harassment that hold consequences for student safety.

This is why independent student publications are so important. They carry a responsibility to report accurately and fairly on issues that affect the public, even if it depicts the university in a negative light. While the Herald continues to uphold this responsibility, it does not take away from the fact that student publications across the country are facing serious challenges that are putting our editorial independence at risk.

This is why on April 25, we here at the Herald will be participating in the “unofficial” Support Student Journalism Day. This campaign, created by the Independent Florida Alligator publication at the University of Florida will utilize the #SaveStudentNewsrooms with the intention of bringing to light the need for student media and the importance of supporting it. For alumni of the College Heights Herald, we encourage you to share how being part of this student publication has affected your life to demonstrate how student journalism is still very much alive.

To those of you still skeptical that university censorship is a possibility for our current publication, we look back to 1988 when former university President Kern Alexander attempted to appoint a committee of faculty editors over the Herald and the Talisman.

To quote the editorial written at the time of the former university president’s actions: “The mission of publications is to cover thoroughly Western’s campus. Coverage of some of [the former President’s] actions that have brought controversy and embarrassment to the university may have displeased him. But the solution is to stop the confusion—not the presses.”