All News Doesn’t Make it to Print
With Black college newspapers struggling to maintain a campus presence, many Black journalism students are finding it harder to hone and showcase their skills
The Campus Chronicle is a feisty little student newspaper at Alcorn State University in rural Mississippi. Last year, the paper won several awards in the Black College Communication Association’s student newspaper contest — including first place for best in-depth reporting for an article about a chronic problem of cold water in dormitory showers.
The university’s administration wasn’t pleased with that story or others about student complaints. So it’s no surprise that the eight-page monthly publication doesn’t receive a dime in support from the university — not even from student fees.
The Shaw Journal is the official student publication of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., but not one issue of the Journal was published during the 1998-99 academic year. One issue was published the year before. As a result, most of Shaw’s print journalism students have never written a story for a student newspaper and have no clips to show prospective employers.
At Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, students worked diligently last fall on the student newspaper, The Gold Torch. They wrote articles about homecoming festivities, reductions in the school’s athletic programs, plans for new construction and various entertainment events. None of the stories appeared in The Gold Torch — because the paper was never published.
While Central State’s administration provides limited funds to the mass communications program for a student newspaper, the faculty adviser to the newspaper teaches four classes, serves as academic adviser for mass communications students and plans an annual media conference.
The Tiger’s Roar at Savannah State fared only a bit better. Dedicated students managed to publish one issue of the newspaper during the first semester of this academic year, despite — or because of — a woeful lack of equipment.
Lincoln University in Missouri, known for its annual Unity journalism awards, provided so little space and equipment for its newspaper that only three issues of the Lincoln Clarion came out last semester. The four-page tabloids, little more than newsletters, materialized mainly because the editor used his personal computer at home.
On the flip side of this dismal picture are the professional-looking broad sheets and newsy tabloids being published at such institutions as Florida A&M, Alabama State, Grambling, Howard, Tennessee State, Hampton and North Carolina Central universities, among others.
But even at these universities, whose newspapers are frequent winners of major awards and whose editors often move straight into positions at daily newspapers, formidable problems exist. The most curious is the fact that not one student newspaper at a historically Black institution comes out daily or even four days a week, which is becoming the norm at majority institutions.
The two schools coming closest are Florida A & M and Howard. The Famuan last August began publishing on Mondays and Thursdays and added an online version of the paper, becoming the first HBCU student paper to be published more often than once a week. At Howard, although The Hilltop comes out weekly, as it has for decades, a second paper, The Community News, is also published weekly as a lab project of the journalism department.
Most student newspapers at HBCUs publish monthly, according to a survey conducted in 1998 by former Grambling University Professor Reginald Owens, who now occupies the F. Jay Taylor Endowed Chair in Journalism at Louisiana Technical University. Owens, a member of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund’s board of directors, obtained a grant from the Fund to gather data on Black student newspapers.
“I could tell from some of the papers I saw coming in from the HBCUs that there were problems,” Owens recalls.
His survey, which received responses from 100 of the 118 schools contacted, found that 69 schools publish student newspapers, most of them monthly or less. Only 11 papers were published weekly, none more often than that. Fourteen responded simply that they published “infrequently.”
Biweekly and monthly campus newspapers just don’t adequately prepare students for work on a daily paper, says Dr. Louise Ritchie, former Famuan faculty adviser who now heads the National Association of Black Journalists’ Internship program.
“HBCUs training students to be print journalists need to understand that for students to be employable in virtually any professional print journalism jobs at graduation, they need to have extensive experience at a good campus newspaper that comes out at least weekly,” Ritchie says.
Perhaps the most unsettling news to come out of Owens’ survey was the revelation that among the schools with inactive publications were “such venerated institutions as Tuskegee University, St. Augustine’s in Raleigh, N.C., Savannah State and Morgan State University in Baltimore.” Morgan State has since resumed publishing on a biweekly schedule.
The list of newspapers in Owens’ survey with no campus newspapers included Lane College in Tennessee, Shaw, Talledega in Alabama, Alabama A&M (which now publishes monthly) and Southern University-Shreveport.
The most frequent problems reported in the survey were funding and equipment.
But the deeper issue is why funding and equipment are not available. At some schools the newspaper is just low on a long list of needy student activities. At others, the paper may receive some funding through a department but not enough for equipment. Or equipment is available but no one is trained to use it. And in some cases student-run newspapers receive little support simply because administrators don’t want them to exist.
“Some Black administrators are suspicious of the news media,” Owens says. “And they’re afraid of media coverage of campus problems. So they believe that if the campus newspaper reports those problems, the other media will follow.”
That is at least part of the problem at Alcorn, where dorm overcrowding — resulting in some students sleeping in their cars — was the subject of considerable local press coverage at the same time that the campus newspaper was struggling to survive without financial support from the school.
Administrators of the 3,000-student public institution even recommended that the mass communications department turn The Campus Chronicle over to the university’s office of public relations. But department chair Dr. Shafiqur Rahman steadfastly refused. The result has been no funding for the newspaper, which this year has managed to come out monthly with the help of national advertising and funds Rahman has scraped together by reducing his own travel to conferences. “Publication cost is the main problem that we are facing now,” Rahman says. “No new support has come from the university yet.”
Yet according to Ralph Payne, special assistant to the president, “The university supports academic freedom. We don’t have a problem with the student newspaper. Creative thinking and creating writing that’s what we’re all about.”
He would not discuss why The Campus Chronicle receives no university funding. However, Payne says another publication, The Alcorn Herald, which is produced in the office of public information, is the “university newspaper.”
At Shaw, a private institution with an enrollment of 2,500, mass communications faculty and students were denied permission last year to start a newspaper, and were told that a school newspaper — The Shaw Journal — already existed, although it had not been published regularly in seven years. The Journal was an administration-approved and supervised publication of the humanities department.
It didn’t help that as Shaw’s mass communications students were seeking permission to start a newspaper in recent years, a flap between the university president and the alumni association was being played out in the local media.
“I believe the university is committed to a student newspaper, and I believe it is a work in progress,” says Regina Boone, Shaw’s director of public relations. And despite editing and technical problems, Boone says The Shaw Journal goes to the printer this month.
The newspaper has an unusual structure for a student publication. It has no student editors but is being run by “an editorial board that consists of students, faculty and staff,” Boone says. “I’m not sure whether it is a student-run paper, but it is open to anyone who wants that type of experience.”
Part of the problem, according to Boone, has been attracting students to the paper. However, some mass communications students have said they would prefer to work on an independent student publication.
Against what appears to be a regressive trend are some promising developments. At Winston-Salem State, which had an inactive newspaper in 1998, students this year are producing a monthly paper, which is scheduled to go biweekly in the second semester. This limited upswing, according to Mass Communications Chair Dr. Brian Blount, comes as a result of support from the administration, particularly in the area of technology.
“That was one of our biggest problems, along with a lack of student participation,” Blount says.
But with a stipend for the newspaper editor, and the hiring of a journalist from the local paper as an adjunct instructor and newspaper adviser, the publication is active again.
Also progressing is Dillard University in New Orleans, which two years ago had a floundering, infrequently published newspaper. But Mass Communications Program Director Patricia Saul Rochon, buoyed by the progressive attitudes of Dillard’s new president, Dr. Michael Lomax, sought help. Rochon applied to the Freedom Forum for a professional-in-residence grant, and this year Dillard received the $90,000 award, which brought Washington Post reporter Robert Pierre to the university for a year.
Pierre advises the newspaper staff and teaches journalism classes. The grant, whose past recipients have included FAMU, Howard, Xavier and Grambling, also provides funds for student enrichment and training. Dillard’s paper, The Courtbouillon, is currently published on a regular biweekly schedule, and receives funds from studentfees and national advertising.
From one administrator’s standpoint, the paper is a plus.
“There’s no question, a functioning, viable student newspaper is a great recruitment tool,” says Dr. Henry Lacey, who recently retired as Dillard’s vice president for academic affairs. “Our recruiters told me that the paper helps to attract more students who are interested in that field.”
North Carolina A&T also has supportive administrators, “but they needed to be fully informed about what is involved in getting the paper published and what the needs are,” says Dr. Linda Callahan, communications department chair.
“When I arrived in 1994-95, the administration wanted the paper coming out more often, but they didn’t realize what technology was required,” she says.
Callahan has since applied for and received Title IX funds for a new 16-unit computer lab with QuarkXpress software. The newspaper staff uses the lab at night when it is not being used for classes, and additional computers have been ordered solely for the newspaper.
Colleges without active student newspapers are depriving their students of a basic source of information about student life. Athletic programs don’t benefit from campus news coverage. Student government and other organizations meet without public notice. Cultural and social functions aren’t written about.
Many administrators appreciate the vital role campus newspapers play. Dr. Antoine Garibaldi, Howard University provost, believes it is important for students to have “a vehicle where they can raise student concerns and issues, as well as highlight students, faculty, staff and programs that are successful and making significant contributions to their college experience.”
Even more practical is the role the student press plays in the future of journalism students. As Owens, who is also a former newspaper editor, concludes in his report: “If there is no school newspaper, it is virtually impossible for a student to compete in the market for a newspaper job.”
Even getting internships is difficult if students lack clips from their student newspapers as evidence of their journalistic ability.
“When hiring reporting interns, employers require evidence that students can do typical intern work, which is work similar to what professional journalists do,” NABJ’s Ritchie says. “Interns typically do hard news reporting — covering business, government, crime, etc.
“For instance, on the first day of one of my former students’ internships, he went to work at 10 a.m., and was told to go cover a speech that would be at 11 a.m.,” she relates. “His story was due at 1, and would be printed in the next day’s paper.”
Ritchie’s student, a former Famuan staff member, made the deadline. But, she contends, a student who had worked on a monthly paper with little hard-news content probably wouldn’t have been able to complete the assignment.
The imperative for campus newspapers was supported by Black Issues’ August 6, 1998, report on minority degrees in journalism and mass communication. Black institutions were at the top of the list of schools awarding those degrees in 1995-96. Five of the top six schools were HBCUs — Clark Atlanta, Grambling, Florida A&M, Howard and Hampton. They collectively graduated 292 minority journalists.
Also high on the list were some Black institutions that were not publishing newspapers on a regular basis at that time. Among them were Alcorn which graduated 19; Shaw, 17; Savannah State, 13; and Dillard, 12.
Finding a Prevailing Wind
Efforts to assist journalism students at HBCUs have come from programs including The Freedom Forum’s Chips Quinn Scholars internships, the NABJ’s student internships, The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund’s internships and the Black College Communication Association’s Roving Journalist Program.
Graduates, especially those who have gone into the journalism field, can also offer assistance.
“Alumni are key,” Owens says. “When they let administrators know that they support campus newspapers, even if it’s just by telephone, it makes a big difference.”
In many cases, alumni may not be aware of the severity of the problems.
“A lot of them have gotten busy and aren’t in touch,” Owens says.
A number of advisers and editors have tried to maintain ties with their graduates by sending them copies of the newspapers. And a few, including Xavier University of Louisiana, invite critiques from alumni. But often those who are comfortable showcasing their papers aren’t at the troubled school papers.
But those who have transcended the impediments say it is possible to prevail, but only by enlisting support from students, faculty, alumni and administrators, through dialogue about the role of the student newspaper. Setting a goal of accreditation of mass communications departments — a goal that only six HBCUs have achieved — is another route.
But what it really boils down to is what Alcorn’s Rahman suggests: “You just have to keep the newspaper going, no matter what.”
— Pearl Stewart, a former newspaper editor, has visited 16 HBCUs as Roving Journalist for the Black College Communication Association.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com