Student Journalists Don't Have a True News Experience

Sep 12, 2011

Working for student newspapers gives future professional journalists a chance to get real world experience while reporting on the stories that are of interest to their campus communities. But bringing these stories to fruition can sometimes be difficult when student journalists aren't afforded the same rights as their professional counterparts.

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By Jessica Lyons

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The Work of Student Journalists

Student journalists do far more than just write about their schools' spring flings, basketball teams or on-campus fundraising events. Many of these reporters venture off-campus to cover issues that could be relevant to their fellow students, such as writing about protests, political events and local crime. To be able to successfully produce these stories, student reporters do much of the same legwork professional journalists would do, including getting background information, conducting interviews and taking photos.

Interview Access Denied

One of the biggest barriers to student journalists being able to fulfill their duties is being denied the access they need. For example, students from a Kent State journalism class on computer-assisted reporting documented the difficulties they had getting state elected officials to do five minute interviews about what program cuts they felt should be made in light of the trillion dollar budget deficit. Although some complied and did Skype or phone interviews, many requests were ignored or denied.

These students didn't just try once and give up. The press secretary for one of the representatives was called 11 times, received five voicemails and still failed to respond, while another representative was called 13 times and e-mailed twice to no avail. Even when the students actually reached someone they were told the politician was too busy or had a scheduling conflict. In one instance, a press secretary for a senator told the student, 'it's not that he doesn't help students, it's just that sometimes it doesn't work out.' One has to wonder if it was a reporter for The New York Times or The Washington Post if they still would have been too busy or just ignored the requests completely.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Broadcast Journalism
  • Photojournalism
  • Print, Broadcast and Electronic Journalism

The Need for Press Credentials

Not being able to qualify for press credentials can also cause problems. In 2010, student journalist Jake Schoneker, a graduate student at UC Berkeley's Journalism School, was arrested while photographing a student protest over proposed budget cuts and fee hikes. Similarly, some Boston College student journalists were arrested while covering a protest off campus in 2002. Without proper identification, law enforcement officials might assume the students are protesters and not journalists.

Boston College is now one of the colleges that has started issuing its own press credentials for its student journalists. However, problems can persist when the students leave their campuses to cover stories, since people outside of the school community might not be as willing to accept these forms of ID.

Students also may not qualify for the press credentials issued by government offices, which oftentimes require the person to be a journalist at a daily publication or at least be a paid journalist. When Boston College students tried to get press credentials through the Massachusetts State Police Department, they were told they didn't meet the qualifications to get the ID.

Equal Footing Needed

In order for student journalists to be able to do their job, they need to be given the same rights as professional journalists. College is a time for students to learn and develop new skills. For these students to become top-notch professional journalists, it's important for them to be able to get their work done without facing barriers merely because they are students.

Whether these young reporters are trying to get an interview or access to an event of interest to their student readers, they shouldn't be denied because of their student status and others shouldn't assume their work means less because they work for a student newspaper instead of a professional newspaper.

Censorship can also be a problem for student journalists. Should schools be allowed to censor their student newspapers?

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