A student newspaper at a university offers young journalists an opportunity to learn and gain experience in their craft. For the most part, this is a very positive experience for students and they come away from it with a greater appreciation for the trade. However, there are situations where student journalists feel as though the university and the students’ unions intimidate them and restrict their ability to report on stories that cast the either institution in a bad light.
Take for example the story of Katie French, a former student journalist at Plymouth University in England. After publishing a story about the university’s plans to cut the budget for student services, she received a series of emails and phone calls that were aimed at intimidating her into pulling the story form the paper’s website. Some of these communications went as far as threatening her with suspension or expulsion from the university.
These stories are not uncommon in the world of student publishing. Universities and students’ unions often take a great interest in what the associated paper prints and they commonly demand some level of editorial control. Even in cases where neither institution has any official editorial authority, they might take advantage of the fact that they have the students that do the writing in a precarious position in regard to keeping their position at the paper and possibly their seat at the school.
Situations like these put universities in a difficult position. On the one hand, most universities set freedom of the press and freedom of expression as part of their core values, but on the other hand, they don’t want a paper that is associated with the school damaging their reputation. This can be a tough balance to maintain because student journalists will obviously show a greater interest in writing stories about the school and this will often give the university cause to feel as though they are under attack from their own students.