I love student media, and here’s why I want everyone else to love it, too. (A Throwback Post)

It’s been 28 years since the Daily Cardinal halted publication amid a sea of financial mismanagement. To commemorate that moment, every Feb. 7, I check in on the Daily Cardinal’s website, just to make sure it’s still there. It always is and based on the strength of fundraising through the Daily Cardinal Alumni Association and the passion of the student staff, year after year, I have great faith that it always will be.

What I have come to realize over all of those years is that I love student media. It has become my life, my passion and my purpose. Student media  gave me the life I love so much now, and the venue it provides me to help others find their way to the life of their dreams.  I also learned that I’m not alone in how I feel.

Today’s throwback post takes a look at a situation involving the potential death of a student media outlet brought about by short-sighted administrators and stupid budgeting. Beyond that, it gave people from many walks of life a chance to learn, laugh and love in an environment that gave them freedom and responsibility.

(SPOILER ALERT: The situation at Doane University got worked out and Doane Student Media kept on rolling.  You can see all the great work students there continue to do through this link.)

Enjoy this look why student media matters so much to so many people.

“It gave me a purpose and quite literally saved my life a few times.” Why Student Media Matters

The Board of Trustees at Doane University approved of President Jacque Carter’s suggested cuts and mergers during its Monday meeting, meaning that Doane Student Media is on a downward spiral to financial insolvency. Editor in chief Meaghan Stout has been covering the situation since the cuts were first announced, which is a lot like being asked to serve as a pall bearer for your own funeral.

According to former Doane student media adviser David Swartzlander, the cuts don’t go into effect until July 1, which gives Stout and others about nine months to raise unholy hell about them, something we’ve asked you all to do throughout the week.

If you’re thinking, “None of this makes any sense. She’s graduating in a month, so she’s done with this place. And why are you dedicating so much time and energy blathering on about student media cuts at a university the size of your high school? You don’t have a horse in this race….,” well, I get it.

From the outside, this looks pathologically stupid.

If you’ve ever spent any time in student media, this makes all the sense in the world.

I asked people I know who have gone in myriad directions after their educational careers came to a close if they ever worked in student media and, if so, why it mattered to them. One of the best journalists I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with, a wordsmith and a storyteller unlike any other, didn’t disappoint:

My high school had no paper. I started one, called “The Cardinal Chirps.” There was news, sports and jokes on four mimeographed pages. (Smelled great!) It may have lasted three issues. The jokes were filler and I learned that not everyone has the same sense of humor. Don’t print jokes. Working at that paper was a revelation. I could find something that didn’t make sense – a section of the lockers were inexplicably located in a dark room with one narrow door – and write about it. It wasn’t safe for those who had their lockers in there. The principal and school board took note and changed it. No had ever brought it to their attention. The learning was true: You can’t fix something if you don’t know it is broken.

I expected a few responses from a few other people, but not much.

I was stunned when I got dozens, like this one from a journalism professor with a background in news:

I graduated from a small rural high school that didn’t even have a school paper. My interest in news grew from my mom’s obsessive consumption of newspapers (we subscribed to two and sometimes three), news magazines (I think we got four), news talk radio (on constantly), morning/noon/evening local and national TV news, public affairs shows on PBS and all the Sunday morning news talk shows, and my own growing awareness that there were other places in the world far from Tonganoxie, Kansas, that I dreamed of seeing someday. It seemed wise to understand what was going on in them before going. And before going, I had to have money. I understood from my good friend that one could be paid actual money for fixing errors in news writing by being something called a copy editor. The University Daily Kansan and my professors with newsroom experience showed me how to be that.

Another higher-ed friend who works as a student media adviser had a similar life experience:

Working in college media was the step for me that solidified how I could attain my dream to work as a professional journalist. Before my college media experience, the concept was very abstract. Moving from dreaming to doing via my student newspaper made it real for me. I am forever grateful to those who gave me the opportunity and helped me see I could do it.

Folks who took the path out of news and into corporate communications, consulting and other similar fields found that student media benefited them as well:

I wanted to write books before I signed up for journalism class in high school on kind of a whim. In that class, I found that I had a knack for journalistic writing, most likely from reading the local paper and my dad’s influence as a TV journalist. Taking that class and continuing that path led me to attend J-School at MU and altered my career path. It also gave me an understanding of and appreciation for the importance of LOCAL journalism.

These responses made sense: Student media was like an internship and a training center for going on to do great and mighty things in the field itself. However, I also saw how the people who went into fields that had nothing to do with news or PR still found amazing value in student media:

I draw from my experience at the DN almost every day. I’ve worked for two law firms and a dental office since college. I’m comfortable asking questions, I’ve learned how to build relationships and I have a better understanding of how government works. The most important thing I have learned is that no matter how much effort you put toward your day, something could change and you need to be ready to shift your priorities and maybe undo all you’ve just done.
My boss at SAGE, who puts up with an awful lot from me, apparently found her muse through student media as well:
Basically shaped my entire college experience. Learned the basic responsibilities, ethical implications, and work ethic of a journalist. Being on the paper motivated me to write about things I was interested in, when I already had to write so much for school…Also I got to interview some really interesting people!
The one common thread, I saw overall, however, was that student media was more than a thing people did. It was who they were. The newsroom wasn’t like a classroom where they HAD to go. It was a place that gave them something special and they WANTED to be there:
It was my happy place. The place where I always knew what I was doing, and why. The place where everything just made sense. Why else would someone finish a shift, go home, get their books and go back to the newsroom to study. Because that’s where I was always focused.


It was my home away from home. And it allowed me to experiment with what I wanted to do.


Genuinely don’t know where to start. The friends, the experiences, now I’m working in media. Joined junior year of high school and haven’t looked back since. It gave me a purpose and quite literally saved my life a few times. I could go on and on.
And so many other people did as well, sharing stories of life-long friendships that developed thanks to pressure-packed deadlines, no sleep and a sense of belonging they never found before or since. At the risk of becoming hyperbolic, student media provides people with something that borders on magical, a familial bond forged in a way that never truly seems to break.


I understand why Meaghan Stout is fighting like hell, against all common sense, for her student media family, because 25 years ago, I was her.


I remember sitting in my journalism adviser’s office six weeks after our student newspaper closed under the weight of $137,700 in debt. My adviser was also my teaching assistant for Media Law, a course I was essentially flunking because I had poured all of my time into fixing the Daily Cardinal.


“You need to quit the paper,” she told me. “You’re going to fail.”


In retrospect, I think she meant the law class, but that’s not how I heard it.


I then listened as she told me how when she was in college, her student newspaper was moving from a weekly to a daily and how she was pressured to put the paper first and everything else second. Instead, she stuck with her classwork and got her degree. Besides, she explained, even if I managed to fix the problems, the paper was likely to shrivel up and die after I left, so what was the point?


In the abstract, she was right. Take care of yourself. Get the grades. Besides, there was another student newspaper on campus I could work for, so what made this Quixotic journey so important? I couldn’t explain it, but even if I could, I doubt she would have understood.


So, I let her finish, told her I’d think about it and then I went back down to the newsroom and kept working on fixing the paper. By the next semester, we’d pulled it back from the brink of collapse and started printing again.


It’s still running to this day.


For me, my student media experience wasn’t about the articles I wrote or the editorial positions I held or the arguments we had. (We often joked that we were a family in the newsroom, in that we drank a lot and hurt each other…)


It wasn’t that, without that paper, there’s no way I would have gotten this far in life, and I’d probably have had a heck of a career as a fairly decent auto mechanic. It also wasn’t the life experiences it gave me either, although without the paper my kid would likely have different godparents and I would have been deprived of the opportunity to return the favor.


I still can’t adequately explain what it is that makes student media matter so much, whether it’s the paper I worked for, the papers I advised or the papers I never ever knew of before a crisis threatened them.


What I can say is that I love reading the articles the students write, as I wonder how much blood, sweat and tears went into just getting that inverted-pyramid piece to hold together. I love seeing those 20-somethings I knew through my media conference presentations or newsroom visits doing great and mighty things as reporters, editors, copy editors and more. I love it even more when I see them finding joy in life outside of the field, moving into politics, social work or psychology.


I treasure the photos I see of engagements and weddings that bloomed from seeds planted on a production night. The houses they buy, the babies they have, the lives they develop… Somehow, it all comes back to that moment they found someone else who had the weird sense of humor that grew from spending too much time in a windowless bunker that smelled of old newsprint and burnt coffee.


In all my time at all these institutions of higher learning, I’ve yet to come across another student organization or activity that even came close to what student media does, both for the campus and for its practitioners. This is something people like Jacque Carter don’t understand, because to them, it’s a pain in the ass that costs money and points out things they don’t want pointed out.


To us, it’s life.


P.S. – I passed law with a C that semester. Even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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