Name: Mitchell Koch
Where I am now: Editor-in-chief of The Daily Helmsman (Memphis, Tennessee)
The role of an independent student newspaper at a university is somewhat complicated and often misunderstood, and it starts with the very definition of being an independent paper.
Student journalists across the country are speaking out April 25, a day deemed Support Student Journalism Day by the editorial staff of The Independent Florida Alligator at the University of Florida, to offer insight into the duty of the student press.
Student newspapers that are independent, like The Daily Helmsman, do not exist to be public relations branches for a university. The institutions and administrations have no editorial control over what is printed, and that leaves much responsibility for the paper’s staff to do its job well and ethically, and we take that seriously.
By being independent, we are not funded fully by the university. Our capital is only there to perform basic daily functions, a la make a newspaper, and is mainly from advertising revenue. Many other student newspapers survive on donations as well. This makes the job tough because, as could probably be guessed, interest in print advertising is declining, so we have to change how we operate sometimes to fit that.
The Daily Campus newspaper at Southern Methodist University recently announced it must re-affiliate with its institution due to lack of funding, meaning the paper no longer has editorial independence. Other publications have come close to doing the same or just shutting down operations. University funding often means university censorship, thus no longer properly representing students.
Without a student newspaper’s independence, it cannot properly inform its campus community because everything written would have a pro-university bias. It is our job to serve and inform the students of the University of Memphis and to make positive changes on campus.
During my time here, we have seen those changes occur on this campus and have covered many of them. I have angered some students. I have angered some faculty. I have probably angered some administrators.
During my time here, we have covered new laws about guns. We have covered (and maybe caused) protests on campus. We have written stories about weed. We have covered some of the best years in Tiger football. We have covered some of the most troubling years in Tiger basketball. We have covered Student Government Association meetings and elections. We have written more stories about weed (but my editing staff is proud of none published this semester). We have covered more versions of the recreation center redesign than I thought possible. We have covered Greek organizations doing good, and we have covered some of them being suspended from campus.
During my time here, we have seen this campus change for the better from what we publish. We wrote about the TIGUrS garden being paved over for a parking lot last year, but that idea was changed after outrage from the campus community. Our university has taken a much stronger stance on sexual assault since our coverage in October 2017, and they have enacted new initiatives and hired new staff to help with that issue. We even wrote a story this semester about the lack of receptacles in women’s restrooms on campus, then SGA passed a bill to fix that. We understand the powerful platform we have been given.
During my time here, we have made mistakes. We irresponsibly published a headline after the 2016 Presidential Election that came off as mocking sexual assault when it was intended to bring light to the words spoken by Donald Trump, and we apologize. We were not as careful as we could have been with the coverage of the “Let’s Talk” forum this semester, and we apologize. We were not careful where we placed a controversial headline after this semester’s SGA election, and we apologize. We have come off as one-sided on some issues, and we apologize and are trying to address that.
One thing that is not going to change is the role of this newspaper. Even though the staff changes very often, and no one is here who was on staff even three years ago, our role will not change. We as a paper are here to stay (but I will be here for one more semester after this one). We are for all students, even if it may not seem so sometimes, because we are students.