Student press freedom more important than ever

It is unfortunate that a lot of students, professors and administrators treat student newspapers like intramural ultimate Frisbee or the A.V. club: just another after-school activity.

Wednesday, Jan. 30 was Student Press Freedom Day, a nationwide event where dozens of student newspapers have penned editorials in a coordinated campaign to remind us that a protected press should not belong only to the professionals.

Through student media conferences, The DePaulia’s staff has encountered student editors, reporters and photographers from all corners of the country; from prestigious New England colleges whose acclaimed newspapers have staffs numbering in the hundreds, to colleges you’ve never heard of in the hills of Kentucky where you can count the staff on one hand.

Not one of them will tell you it’s merely an activity to bolster their resumes, though that is a plus. And you’ll definitely never hear a student editor say they’re doing because it pays well, because it doesn’t.

What every one of them will tell you is that there isn’t a better feeling than seeing someone pick up the paper when they hit the newsstands on Monday.

The truth is, we sacrifice a lot for the privilege of doing this job. Our grades and our social lives suffer. We kid that our major is in The DePaulia.

In The DePaulia’s final issue of the year last year, we wrote an editorial detailing the roadblocks we have faced in our pursuit of stories and information at DePaul, and it’s safe to report things haven’t improved much since.

But we must give credit where credit is due: DePaul is part of an increasingly rare segment of colleges who let their student media operate autonomously and independently.

It could be worse. We could be The Daily Kansan, whose budget was crippled by the student government in retaliation for an unfavorable editorial they wrote, and the editors were forced to sue the school for violating their First Amendment rights.

We could just as well be the Bryan College Triangle, a student paper at a small Christian college in Tennessee whose administration nixed a story about a professor who had been arrested for child molestation. The school’s public information officer said the school and the professor “had nothing to gain by allowing publication” of the story.

Some students we’ve chatted with at conferences stare aghast when we tell them our school doesn’t control what we write, like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave who have just learned the world isn’t just shadows on a wall.

DePaul doesn’t tell us what to write, and that’s not always good for the school’s immediate interests. We have written about racial discrimination lawsuits brought against the College of Law at a time when Bar passage rates, enrollment and rankings are all falling – not the best look for a school trying to revamp its law school’s image.

We have written stories about underwhelming attendance at the school’s new $100 million-plus basketball arena – numbers that we recently reported have continued to fall in its second season. We even wrote an editorial calling for DePaul’s athletic director to resign or be fired.

It’s probably safe to say the public relations and marketing departments would have taken different angles.

We don’t write stories like these out of contempt or an eagerness to practice “gotcha” journalism, which every professor in DePaul’s journalism department has warned its well-taught students against.

We write them because they are the truth. And the truth should be democratic.

We write them because, when the school has “nothing to gain by allowing publication” of a story, the students often have everything to gain.

Most importantly, we write them because we elevate the voices of the students who administrators with six-figure salaries tend to gloss over. We are a voice speaking for, and to, the student body.

We know that a copy of The DePaulia is delivered to President A. Gabriel Esteban’s office every Monday, so that the voices of the DePaul community are hoisted to its highest executive, so that they can hear what our students want.

As President Barack Obama said, a free press makes “leaders more effective because it demands greater accountability.”

So let it be known that when we doggedly pursue stories, we do not do it with malicious intentions. We do it so that we can make our lives more enjoyable, our university more amenable and our community more inclusive.