From Caitlin Ostroff: We need to find a new funding model for student news

Name: Caitlin Ostroff

College publication: The Independent Florida Alligator

Where I am now: Reporter at The Wall Street Journal

 It’s hard to think it’s been three years since I graduated from the University of Florida; three years since I set foot in the somewhat-affectionately deemed “closet” we rented as The Alligator’s newsroom within the Gainesville Sun building. So much has changed since then and so much hasn’t.

The Alligator is still doing important coverage of UF and the Gainesville community, uncovering data on the breadth of the health crisis and telling the stories of those lost, but it’s doing so remotely. Businesses have pulled ads because the mom and pop shops I used to frequent for coffee and burritos have struggled. The paper is relying on digital content more than ever, having further curtailed printing to once a week.

The pandemic has exacerbated what Melissa Gomez, Jimena Tavel and I feared when we started Save Student Newsrooms in 2018.

In many cases, students are the only ones covering their campuses and even communities as swaths of reporting jobs have been wiped away. They’re the ones going to university administration meetings to find out how student (and parent) money is being spent. They’re launching investigations into university policies and handling of everything from sexual assault on campus to the wages offered to student workers.

But without proper funding and support, many will have to re-affiliate with their universities. This could mean university oversight and halts or reviews of those important stories.

Even outside the threat of censorship, half the fun of being at The Alligator was our ability to do big, crazy projects because we were passionate. We sent reporters to three different cities, including Washington D.C., to cover the Women’s March in 2017. We scraped data to recreate maps alongside the national papers, just to prove we could. We committed to doing a podcast, without really knowing how to edit audio when we started.

Crazy? Probably. But that training ground made us into the reporters we are today. We pushed each other, rather than having adults tell us what to do.

We need to find a new funding model for student news — it’s too important not to. We need alumni, readers and nonprofits all committing to donating to student papers and elevating student voices. Students are used to being scrappy with the little money they do have. Imagine what they’d do with more.

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