The rise of the internet has transformed the media industry, upending the traditional print business model of journalism but also allowing outlets to reach larger audiences than previously imaginable.
Student-run news organizations are often excluded from conversations about the future of journalism, but student media organizations are facing the same financial challenges as big-name papers. Many student papers have been forced to sacrifice their independence — their only protection from college administrators’ censorship — to stay alive. That’s why The Daily Pennsylvanian is joining the #SaveStudentNewsrooms campaign, an initiative spearheaded by editors at the University of Florida's student newspaper in 2018 to draw attention to the importance of independent student media.
Independent student journalism is crucial both for the campus communities student journalists cover and for the media industry at large. It is our responsibility to keep the Penn community informed on what’s happening on and around campus and hold individuals and organizations accountable, even when this coverage is unflattering to the University or student leaders.
Additionally, student-run organizations are where many professional journalists gained their first experiences in the industry. At Penn, where there is no journalism school or major, the DP serves as Penn’s “unofficial journalism department” and has alumni on the staffs of nearly every major news outlet.
In May 2018, Southern Methodist University newspaper The Daily Campus lost its independence due to financial constraints and became part of SMU’s journalism department. In addition to relinquishing editorial control, losing independence means that faculty supervise the students who work for The Daily Campus. One of the most valuable aspects of being a part of an independent media organization is the hands-on management experience that students gain, which prepares them for careers in journalism and in other industries.
The DP was first published in 1885 and existed under editorial control of the University until 1962, when the DP broke away from men’s student government and merged with the University’s women’s newspaper. At the time, editors at the DP wanted women to be able to join but faced backlash from men’s student government. The break from men’s student government came after student leaders attempted to shut down the DP for satirizing sexism in the men’s student government in the DP’s annual joke issue, which included a front-page editorial urging the University to “abolish all student government.”
From 1962 to 1984, the DP existed as an autonomous student organization. We received funding from Penn but had a memorandum of understanding with the University allowing for editorial independence. In 1984, the DP incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization — formally completing the separation from any editorial or financial control from the University. Each year, outgoing editors and business managers elect a new student board to run The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc., which includes the DP, 34th Street Magazine, and Under the Button.
If the DP were to become a part of the University, we could be subject to censorship that would make it far more challenging to publish stories that are crucial to our community. In 2017, we published a special issue dedicated to mental health, including a story about how some students felt Penn did not adequately support them following the death by suicide of a close friend. In 2018, we published an investigative report on former professor Robert Kurzban, who had a relationship with a student while he was her minor advisor. Just last week, we released a report on the alleged mistreatment of Penn volleyball players by coach Iain Braddak. We are able to publish stories like these because we are independent. Losing our independence would mean that the Student Activities Council could cut our budget if they didn’t like something we published.
The financial challenges of the media industry threaten the independence of student newspapers like ours. The DP does its best to accurately report on the Penn community and to provide a platform for all student voices so that students and faculty have access to an uncensored media outlet. This is a great responsibility — one that we hope to continue to see through in the years to come.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.
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