student journalists

In student-journalism, you are eventually tested in one way or another.

It could be your first story assignment as a first-semester freshman, thrown into the fire with little-to-no first-hand experience of general reporting.

It may be your first year as a sub-editor, managing a staff as well as handling the expectation of the leadership qualities that you probably haven’t grown into quite yet.

Or as an editor in chief — embracing the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with being the face of a student-media outlet.

Student-journalism isn’t always acclaimed, or even minutely appreciated to some extent. The work, however, is often why good journalists became great. It may not seem that way from the outside in, but as an editor, sub-editor or as a reporter, student-journalism’s existence is dependent on the simple premise of experience.

Experience, both good and bad, breeds success — with overall initiative and awareness progressing with each story or social media post.

Being a student-journalist is to constantly strive to find ways to better yourself in all areas. With professors and professional advisers nurturing that drive, student-journalism often isn’t taken seriously because of its safety net of a dilemma: “They’re just students telling a story.”

Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, came under fire last week due to its coverage of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions' on-campus appearance — sparking student protest revolving around the topic of diversity.

At Illinois State, diversity has been a key issue tackled by the university over the past few months, as organizations such as Black Student Union and Black Homecoming Committee voiced their disdain of campus-life equality, ringing in the term “fake diversity” at ISU.

Minority students have long-felt marginalized — not just stemming from the #AntiBlackISU rallies in October. Diversity has been an ongoing issue the university continues to face, as the student-body more or less has come together in support of diversity and inclusion.

In this case, The Vidette’s coverage of the #AntiBlackISU rally sparked backlash on social media for wrongfully focusing on the specific event that brought forth the #AntiBlackISU movement and not on the implications of movement itself.

Unknowingly reporting a truth that only scratched the surface of an entire movement sparked said backlash from those involved in the protest. As student-journalists, our jobs are to report the facts, and with social media, maintaining a presence is key to success as a student-journalist. It is how stories are told, written and shared today and tomorrow.

With The Daily Northwestern, the student-editors were doing their jobs, releasing an overreacted apology for carrying out their rights as journalists.

Journalism Twitter had its way with The Daily Northwestern, calling NU’s student-journalists “pathetic” and “sniveling” according to a few comments on social media.

Student-journalists can be the backbone to great journalism. Bringing forth stories that students need to know while creatively crafting content at many different angles all while maintaining a full class load? This nonetheless is the challenge student-journalists are tasked with.

The Daily Northwestern’s coverage and apology, no matter how profuse, garner a responsibility to not only project factual clarity, but to uphold the standards of objectivity and validity to an issue.

Coinciding with the Daily’s apologetic remarks, these student-journalists, especially Daily Northwestern Editor-in-Chief Troy Closson, faced national criticism head on. In journalism at any level, it is just as important to face backlash head on as it is to tell the story.

Closson and his team did what they were supposed to do. They shouldn’t apologize for keeping students informed of a campus-wide issue.

Sensitivity is a difficult thing to navigate, especially under deadline. In journalism, both at the student-level and professionally, it is seemingly impossible to please everyone.

There are few gifts greater than experiencing real-time adversity to these student-journalists. Finding ways to overcome a challenge — albeit apologizing for reporting on a campus protest — is why student-journalism is as important as those who protect it.

JONATHAN BARLAS is Editor in Chief of The Vidette. He can be reached at jgbarla@ilstu.edu. Follow him on Twitter @janveselybarlas.


IF YOU SUPPORT THE VIDETTE MISSION of providing a training laboratory for Illinois State University student journalists to learn and sharpen viable, valuable and marketable skills in all phases of print and digital media, please consider contributing to this most important cause. Thank you.

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