150th Anniversary Issue

Overcoming a ‘long-simmering crisis’: The importance of student newspapers

With print media continuing to diminish and economic hardships plaguing small newspapers, the work of student newsrooms is as important as ever. (Anthony Angel Pérez / Staff)

In his book, “Journalism: Why It Matters,” Columbia University journalism professor Michael Schudson addressed what perhaps most of us have noticed for a while now: that traditional newspapers are being cast aside.

“Journalism in much of the world is in a long-simmering crisis—its central institutions are floundering economically, its popular appeal is under challenge from both new and old rivals, its self-confidence in stumbles,” Schudson writes.

For decades, newspapers have faced uncertainty as the internet has taken the industry by storm. The difficulty to maintain print media has led to a shift in digital media, where securing revenue to keep publishing the news still poses a challenge. Larger newspaper chains continue to impact smaller newsrooms by buying them out. This activity contributes to the newspaper industry’s decline, leading to numerous journalists losing their jobs.

Student newsrooms that aren’t funded by their institutions face similar setbacks, thus requiring them to seek digital solutions — such as online ad revenue and fundraising — that allow their respective newspapers to continue their development and existence in an ever-changing technological world.

The Daily Californian perseveres through these challenges while presenting a unique opportunity for students to represent a diversity of voices and creating a place for them to grow both personally and within the Berkeley community.

Building the next generation of journalists is crucial to fostering representation, as journalism’s very purpose is rooted in accuracy, which includes fairly communicating the reality of different communities. College students, who come from a variety of cultural and geographical backgrounds to attend college, can bring this diversity in perspective to a campus newspaper.

This is especially important because student journalists are the ones who will continue to pave the way for print and web media in the fight to keep newspapers alive. Student newspapers maintain the coverage of local news when other small newsrooms shut down. The efforts of student newspapers go beyond the university and into the city — and sometimes, even the rest of the world.

A student newspaper naturally produces unique content as a result of the diversity of its young contributors. This includes pieces that discuss events that occur within their community and publicize stories that have been historically silenced and reflect the voices of budding writers. Student journalism functions as a necessary channel through which students can help others understand new and relevant information.

Student newspapers’ efforts reflect the principles of ethical journalism, which include truth and accountability. These principles define the basis of journalists’ responsibility to not only report fairly but also actively renew that commitment when mistakes are made.

When in the hands of powerful institutions and individuals who wish to prioritize their own representation over the voices of students, those principles become jeopardized. As a result, student newspapers such as the Daily Cal were left to fight for their independence and authenticity — and some are still engaged in that struggle for creative agency.

The Daily Cal used to be funded by UC Berkeley, meaning that the institution had license to shut down certain stories that didn’t appeal to its standards. This, in turn, silenced student voices, especially on issues of controversy and social activism, reflecting a controlled narrative that opposes what ethical journalism stands for. In 1971, the Daily Cal gained its independence as a student-run newspaper, becoming one of the few independent college newspapers whose unique status reflects the power of student newspapers while fostering ethical journalism.

As student newsrooms continue to fight economic hardships and challenges to their freedom, student journalists still don’t receive all the recognition they deserve. They are subject to censorship and are often underestimated because of their youth. These difficulties, which challenge the survival and integrity of student newspapers, contribute to the greater cycle of newsrooms’ extinction.

Empowering student newsrooms is important now more than ever. In our complex and changing world, journalism lends a helping hand by documenting stories and providing a place where students have the agency to offer truths about their communities. To put it simply, student journalism matters — today, tomorrow and in the foreseeable future.