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EDITORIAL: Reflecting on the Herald’s independence on National Student Press Freedom Day

Carrie Pratt
Herald Editorial Board commentary editor Price Wilborn, content editor Molly Dobberstein, staff photographer Ian Pitchford and photo editor Emilee Arnold look over pages during the Herald production in September 2023. Before pages are sent off, staff members are expected to be present in the office to check over pages to catch any mistakes and ensure the process is completed of putting together the best news magazine possible.

Every day, students at colleges and universities across the country doggedly pursue stories that matter to their campus communities, that hold their administrations accountable and provide calls to action, moving students, faculty and staff to share their voice on an issue concerning their school. Student journalists break important news and report essential stories that add immeasurable value to the campuses of their universities.

Student journalism, while providing an essential service to schools across the nation, has often been caught in a conflict between the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and university administrators who seek to limit or control the voices of and stories by student reporters. Time and time again, however, the side of free press has prevailed.

Today, Feb. 22, is National Student Press Freedom Day, a day to remember the fights that have been fought across the country and here on the Hill to ensure student newsrooms have the same rights, freedoms and protections as professional newsrooms in the United States. We at the College Heights Herald find special importance in this day each year because the Herald is WKU’s independent, student-run news organization. Both of these are key to what we do.

First and foremost, we are independent. The funding for the Herald comes primarily from the advertisements you see on our website, on our social media and in our news magazine. We are an independent news organization that provides information to the WKU community, but we do not act on behalf of the university.

We are also a student-run newspaper. The Herald has professional advisers who guide us and provide us with advice and support, but content decisions and creative control lie with the students who make up the Herald’s reporting, photography, sports, videography, podcast, social media, design and commentary teams. We the students make decisions as to what we do and do not post, going to our advisers for guidance when we deem it necessary to do so.

The Herald has a long, storied history of independence, and we stand on the shoulders of those who secured that independence for us.

In 1988, then WKU President Kern Alexander was criticized by Herald writers for missing a meeting with Kentucky Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson concerning the state’s budget crisis. Soon after the series of news articles, Alexander proposed a plan to the Board of Regents to appoint a faculty editor of the Herald to review all pieces to be published by the paper.

This was an unprecedented move, and Alexander quickly found himself battling not just the Herald, but the paper’s alumni, WKU’s students and many across the nation. Students demonstrated on campus while news outlets from Kentucky, Tennessee and across the nation descended on the Hill to cover the events.

The Herald staff at the time was passionate about its independence and fought back hard against this proposed university control. In the end, a faculty editor was never appointed to review the pieces student journalists publish. Alexander left WKU for a teaching position at Virginia Tech less than two months after the proposal to install a faculty editor was first introduced.

Since 1988, Herald journalists have prided themselves on their independence and their accuracy. The paper has a long history of excellence, and today we make it a point to uphold the high standards that have been set by those who came before us and are upheld by the WKU community we serve.

We know that we do not always meet these standards. As students, we are still learning. Despite this, we continuously strive to meet them each day and with each piece we publish by learning from our mistakes and remembering the valuable lessons these mistakes present to us.

Our independence allows us to cover breaking news on campus and in the Bowling Green community in ways that we would not be able to otherwise. We are able to raise awareness to great things being done by students, faculty and staff, highlighting groundbreaking work and activism that we hope inspires each and every one of our readers.

The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to a free press, one that is not arbitrarily controlled by governments or other higher powers. It is this freedom that makes America, well, America. People are able to express their opinions freely with limited restrictions. Courts have upheld this time and time again, placing much more weight on an individual’s or an organization’s right to freely express itself than on possible harm done to governmental institutions.

We believe the administration at WKU respects and honors the First Amendment, allowing us to do our work as we have always done – as aspiring professionals. We are proud to be part of the system that makes WKU better, and we are proud that the university and its administration have created an environment that allows us to exercise this freedom.

As student journalists, it gives us a chance to hone our craft and perfect our skills. Every newsroom and news outlet in the country has the ability to choose what content it does or does not publish. Working in a free, independent newsroom here on the Hill prepares us to do the same type of work at professional newsrooms in the future.

The Herald is a consistently nationally recognized student-run news organization in the United States. Among those which have won the Associated Collegiate Press’s national Pacemaker Award, the highest honor for student-run media, the Herald ranks sixth nationally. Both the Herald and our sister publication, the Talisman, are among The Pacemaker 100 most successful student media outlets.

On this National Student Press Freedom Day, we are proud to continue being a free, independent organization, and we renew our pledge to our readers that we will continue to uphold the standards set by those who came before us while preserving the freedom and independence that they fought so hard to secure for us.

If you would like to submit a reaction to a piece, Letter to the Editor or other submission, please send it to commentary editor Price Wilborn at [email protected] or [email protected].

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