by Loren Haas
If you’re reading this article right now, I’d like to congratulate you: you’re probably one of the few. The Oxford Spokesman isn’t exactly a well-known organization. Out of our top 20 most read articles, only four of them have earned more than 30 views since their publication, and some of these articles have been out for longer than I’ve been a student at Oxford. Emory’s journalism program outside of Oxford isn’t faring much better. Emory University only offers one major distinctly within the field of Communications and Journalism, and only 30 undergraduate students out of 2460 graduated with this major in 2018. Student journalism is suffering – and has been for a long time.
This certainly isn’t an isolated issue. Student journalism, and journalism in general, are both on the decline. Interest in print newspapers is dropping considerably; daily circulation of news media in the United States has decreased by 8 to 9 percent in the past year alone. In fact, the number of publications published every weekday today (28.5 million) is less than half of what it was at its peak in 1990 (62 million). Plus, viewership is generally speaking down, with newspapers, local television and network television all seeing decreases in viewership over the course of the past two years.
However, the unique position of student journalism makes the blow especially significant. The only forms of news viewership that are increasing are cable television and digital media. Campus life limits access to several forms of media, and, without regular television access on Oxford or other campuses, digital media is the only one of these forms that student journalists can try to reach the student body through.
But increased interest in digital media forms has reduced the effectiveness of print papers. Several campuses that once published newspapers daily, such as the University of Virginia, have found themselves cutting back to biweekly or monthly. The problem from this is twofold; the student paper loses access to crucial advertising revenue, which can cripple the organization if it is independent from school funding, and loses its publicity. On campuses with daily newspapers, 82 percent of the student body reads the paper at least once over the course of 90 days. As surveys found that 74 percent of students will take action based on articles they have read in the student paper (even if it is as simple as checking out a recommended movie), losing daily publication sabotages student journalism’s influence across campuses.
This comes at a time where journalism is being attacked on all sides. The “fake news” era has damaged faith in news media, for some beyond repair. Only 41 percent of American adults say that they had even a fair amount of trust in the media in 2017, and 69 percent say that their faith in the news has decreased over the past decade. But more than that, even universities have become more hostile to student news as their bureaucratic needs grow. Many student newspapers, such as The Statesman from Stony Brook University, have found their relationships with their administrations become more tumultuous as they restrict access to both interviews and transparent documentation. Schools are providing less funding and claiming that the school papers just aren’t aligned with their “mission.”
All these factors combined feed into student journalism’s decline, and each one only compounds on top of each other. Student interest in publication doesn’t appear high – interest in journalism and mass communication programs at universities has been steadily declining – but part of the problem is that these publications do not exist in such a capacity where they can garner interest. Students are much more interested in joining an organization they can see impact their campus daily or is highly reputable than a sporadic periodical, but current conditions at universities are increasingly forcing student publications to publish print less and less. As journalism programs weaken, students turn to different programs, in which turn causes the journalism program to get weakened further. The cycle repeats.
Student journalism ought to be a crucial part of day to day life on a college campus. It ought to be a source of readily available campus news. It ought to be able to fill in for declining local news. It ought to become a backbone for a community. But the resources for and conditions of student journalism are deeply sabotaging it – and, if we don’t take action to change it, a vital part of campus connections could be lost.