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.

From Rishika Dugyala: We learned that we can push the boundaries of “business as usual”

Name: Rishika Dugyala

College publication: The Daily Northwestern

Where I am now: Digital Strategy Editor at POLITICO

The Daily Northwestern is where I found the people I still rely on today and my love for what journalism could be — despite the industry’s flaws. Everyone in my J school always said, “the real learning happens outside of the classroom, at student publications.” They were right. We learned to not take concepts like “objectivity” at its word. We learned how to reform a publication that has harmed marginalized communities in the past, but was trying to chart a new path. We learned how to take care of our mental health as journalists. And we learned that we don’t have to follow strict industry practices to be successful, that we can push the boundaries of “business as usual.” The industry is going through a transformation right now, and student newsrooms are incredibly vital to help young people re-envision the future of journalism and encourage them to take their seat at that table. At least, it was for me.

From Mariana Alfaro: At the Daily Northwestern, I found lifelong friends

Name: Mariana Alfaro

College publication: The Daily Northwestern

Where I am now: Researcher at the Washington Post

I worked different jobs at the Daily Northwestern (peaking at Managing). It wasn’t just the newsroom experience I got out of it — reporting, editing, leading — but the friendships I made. Most of my friends in my life as a “real-world” adult now are kids I met at 18 in the cramped offices of our student paper. At The Daily, I networked, I got clips, I won awards, I found my voice as a reporter. But, more importantly, I met fellow reporters who are now my friends for life, because we bonded over late nights, messy corrections, bad coffee and punny ledes. I’ll forever be indebted to the Daily Northwestern for that.

From Ken Armstrong: Student journalists can compete with professional journalists

Name: Ken Armstrong

College publication: The Purdue Exponent

Where I am now: Reporter at ProPublica

 I worked at the Purdue Exponent. That was a long time ago. (I graduated in 1985.) I learned:

You can make, and survive, mistakes.

Student journalists can compete with professional journalists.

You learn more from writing for a newspaper than reading from a textbook.

I learned other things, too, chief among them that I liked working at a newspaper. The Exponent opened the way to an unanticipated career, which was nice, especially when I learned that I didn’t much like my anticipated career.

Student journalists today are better than the student journalists of my day. They have to be. They deal with so much, so early. But their impact is extraordinary. High school journalists in Louisville broke one story after another last year about the Kentucky State Police; afterward, the police commissioner resigned and the governor ordered a review. College journalists at The Daily Tar Heel sued to get sexual assault records from the University of North Carolina. They fought in court for four years, going all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court — where they won. (The university then took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court — where it lost.) We need student newspapers now more than ever. Please support them.

Staff Editorial: We’re advocating to #SaveStudentNewsrooms across college campuses

Student newsrooms are more important than ever in a climate that distrusts and attacks journalism. 

What becomes increasingly essential is the support of universities across student media, but that hasn’t always been the case. Student-run papers have been sued by their own universities for attempting to access relevant information. They’re ostracized by full-time journalists for attempting to hold their positions to a higher standard. On April 25, a day of advocacy for the “Save Student Newsrooms” campaign, we have the opportunity to share how pivotal and important student newsrooms are on campuses, within communities and across the journalism industry. This campaign, launched by the University of Florida’s student-run paper, The Independent Florida Alligator, provides us a chance to highlight the dire circumstances facing student journalism. Student newsrooms throughout the country don’t have nearly enough of the support and resources they need to operate a campus paper. 

Read the rest of the piece here.

Letter from the Editor: Happy Save Student Newsrooms Day of Action

Today, April 25, is Save Student Newsrooms Day of Action 2021. On this day annually, student newspapers around the country band together to help demonstrate just how important student newsrooms truly are.

In reality, the importance of student newsrooms is multi-faceted. For one, they provide important training and learning opportunities for student journalists. The opportunities that students are afforded in university newsrooms are highly unique, challenging and often career-altering. While networking opportunities and internships are quite important as well, students working in independent newsrooms have the chance to make editorial decisions completely of their own accord, and the value of the lessons that accompany making these decisions cannot be understated.

Read the rest of the piece here.

From Emmanuel Morgan: Being a student reporter and editor gave me the tools to be successful in the real world

Name: Emmanuel Morgan

College publications: Elon News Network

Where I am now:  New York Times – Sports reporter

The late nights on producing the paper, hours-long discussions on potential ethical issue and the emails from angry sources helped forge the foundation to understand the day-to-day situations of a professional journalist. Being a student reporter and editor gave me the tools to be successful in the real world and helped me learn about the do’s and don’ts in the field.

Editorial: #SaveStudentNewsrooms: We can’t do this without you

Here at The Alligator, we pride ourselves on many things, perhaps the most important being our  independence. 

But the truth is, we could never do this alone. We need help and support from you.

Three years ago, a few Alligator editors started the #SaveStudentNewsrooms campaign to show the challenges student newsrooms face. Every year since, on April 25 we’re joined by newsrooms across the country sharing our financial hardships, censorship cases and notable work. It looks the same at almost every college –– student newsrooms are struggling.

Read the rest of the editorial here.

Editorial: #SaveStudentNewsrooms: The Red & Black’s story

On March 28, 2021, The Red & Black editors held an in-person staff meeting for the first time in more than a year. The last in-person budget was on March 5, 2020.

While students juggled virtual classes, historic protests and a pandemic, we also transitioned the newsroom online. Virtual video calls and 24/7 Slack messages replaced in-person paper production and staff meetings.

But throughout this year, the newsroom maintained its commitment to the communities we cover and students we help to train — just as The Red & Black has done for the last 127 years. We learned lessons of empathy and patience. While there is still room to grow, we have come a long way maturing as journalists and as 20-year-olds.

This drastic change was not without losses — more than a dozen student positions in our business and promotions team had to be eliminated because of COVID-19 restrictions. Our sales team went from eight to four.

Read the rest of the Red & Black editorial here.

From Melissa Gomez: Student newsrooms are scrappy. But they need the right resources.

Name: Melissa Gomez

College publications: The Independent Florida Alligator

Where I am now:  Reporter at the Los Angeles Times

I graduated from the University of Florida in 2018. And when I think back to my college days, I remember the long nights of reporting out student government stories, chugging iced hazelnut lattes from Karma Cream and eating one too many garlic knots from Leo’s. 

Well, Leo’s, a longtime Gainesville staple, is no longer around. The Alligator’s office is no longer on University Avenue. Karma Cream is still serving great lattes, it just takes a little longer to get there from campus. 

A lot has changed since those days. But one thing that hasn’t is the commitment from journalists at The Alligator to keep putting out important stories to serve the community. The newspaper business, like Gainesville, is going through a lot of change as well. As print revenue declines, newspapers across the U.S are looking at ways to reach an audience online. Student journalists are much scrappier: with limited resources, they make do with what they have. Luckily, with UF’s College of Journalism, some resources are often available, like advice from seasoned journalists or equipment to cover stories. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this. With more support, student newsrooms can have a greater impact on their communities. With the help of digital partnerships and collaborations, student journalists can come out of college with the skills and resources to succeed after college. Many student newspapers are making the transition to digital-first, but many others are going to need support from their alumni, and the journalism community, to survive the next decade. 

If there is anything I learned from my days at the Alligator, it’s that there is always a way to keep telling stories. Student journalists have proved that this past year. Even with classes being remote, they can keep reporting on institutions and holding them accountable. They’ve put together editions of the paper remotely, and made digital copies available. They’ve pushed for transparency from their universities because often they’re the only ones there to do the job. 

So if there’s one last thing I learned, it’s to never underestimate a journalist who learned how to report in a student newsroom.