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Shah: The power of the independent newspaper

March 14, 2018

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I credit everything I know about journalism to the Independent Collegian. 

 

 

 

From writing investigative pieces to in-depth features, the IC prepares writers for a lifetime career in journalism. The wide range of skills offered at the paper simply cannot be taught in a classroom setting. 

 

The paper provided me with incredible opportunities to develop my skills as a writer and build by confidence as an interviewer. It fosters creative thinking and critical problem-solving skills fundamental to working in any newspaper setting. 

 

The IC prepares individuals to think on their feet and meet weekly deadlines, paving the way for them to pursue a successful career in any area of journalism upon graduating.

 

To many students, the newspaper is just a paper, but to me, it’s the cornerstone of how I’ll define my college career. It provides a home for aspiring journalists, a place we can’t find on campus due to the lack of opportunities available to journalism students. 

 

While print journalism is dead at UT, the Independent Collegian is the place where students can practice their storytelling techniques. It is through this practice that we bring important campus issues to light.

 

Our sole responsibility is to serve in the public’s interest, so when occasional scandals, questionable decisions made by the administration or misuse of funding occur, the only organization on campus that can investigate the issue and report it is an independent newspaper. 

 

A paper tied to the university is at risk of having this freedom revoked, therefore undermining their ability to act responsibly in informing the student body. 

 

For example, when the physician assistant program lost its accreditation, the UT website did not immediately update its status from accreditation-probation to withdrawn accreditation. Their lack of immediacy in notifying students put students’ futures at risk.

 

If we were to join back with the university, the IC would be limited in reporting such a story. Instead, the newspaper would only cater to the university’s needs and report public relations stories. 

 

Our purpose isn’t to glorify UT; rather, it’s to establish transparency between the university and students, a responsibility we take very seriously. 

 

Much like the federal government looks at the news as the fourth branch of government, we are an important branch to the makeup of this university. The role of this student-led paper is to inform students about changes happening on campus. More importantly, the Independent Collegian provides a forum for students to address issues directly affecting them, and start a conversation with faculty and administration. 

 

Our purpose is to allow students to hold the university accountable for its actions.

 

For this reason, the freedom of speech is essential in a well-functioning student newspaper as it enables the free flow of information. While there are individuals who do not act responsibly in handling this freedom, the IC newspaper staff understands and respects the tenets of freedom of the press.

 

In his article “Toward a Theory of the First Amendment for the College Press,” John Reed mentions that in the 1950s and 1960s, American student newspapers did not have freedom of press. Administrators used their authority to discipline and regulate school environments to justify censorship. 

 

Reed says around 1955, a professional newspaper editor regarded administrators as publishers since they had final say on what could be printed. For this reason, legal counsel argued the judiciary apply the first amendment to protect newspapers from administrative intervention. 

 

In 2000, a very similar circumstance presented itself during Vik Kapoor’s presidency. The Toledo Blade released an editorial on August 18, 2000 discussing how Kapoor’s actions of intimidating the then-Collegian prompted the paper’s decision to go independent. 

 

“The independence movement is the result of the ham-handed effort by the Kapoor administration to force editor-in-chief Keith Tarjanyi out of his job unless he gave up his clerical job at the Blade,” read the Blade editorial. 

 

Although censorship of the paper did not occur, the possibility was always present as long as the newspaper was operating on university funds. 

 

Then-chairman Robert Langenderfer of the UT board set out to punish Collegian staff, believing that if coverage of UT’s troubles could be stopped, those problems would magically disappear, according to the Blade.

 

In any instance, if we were to join back with the university, we would once again be threatening our freedom of speech. While Kapoor was a piece of the “independence puzzle,” the budget also played a significant role in convincing the staff to go independent, former editor-in-chief Keith Tarjanyi shared.

 

In the mid-to-late 90s, the Collegian generated a generous amount of funds. At one time a $100,000 -$200,000 profit was seen.  Unfortunately, the Collegian was only permitted access to its budgeted funds. 

 

At that same time, student organization budgets significantly reduced. Unfortunately, if the Collegian had been treated like any other student organization during that period, it would not have been forced to give back any of its funds to the university. 

 

As the editor-in-chief for two years, Tarjanyi said he spent time negotiating for additional funds with administrators. It wasn’t until he questioned them on why their extra funds were not going into a reserve account that the administration budged on providing the staff with additional funds for a particular need. 

 

The second problem was their organization’s leadership being selected by the central board of student media. This was essentially a group of people chosen by the university’s administration and the president of student government. 

 

Over the years, politics played into the selection process and individuals who were the staff picks for leadership roles were sometimes turned down in favor of individuals more favorable to the student government and university administration, Tarjanyi said. 

 

Unlike all other student organizations which were allowed to vote on their leadership, the Collegian staff had no say. Tarjanyi said this was a heartbreaking process to watch play out.

 

 

The version of independence that the Collegian ultimately ended up with was not the version that the staff at the time had envisioned. Tarjanyi said he suspected there were some UT administrators and trustees whose egos were bruised over the failed Kapoor presidency. 

 

Ultimately, this forced them to relocate the IC off-campus as a form of payback due to the failure of the Kapoor presidency, Tarjanyi said.

 

Tarjanyi said the thing he found most disheartening about how everything went was that all the members of the staff were tuition-paying students who should not have been forced into taking such a harsh position by university leadership. 

 

He added that they simply wanted to select their own leadership and have access to profits. Had those two elements already been occurring, the Collegian’s bid for independence would have likely been unnecessary.

 

This ultimately highlights the most important factor in why a newspaper should remain independent from a university. The problems lie in finding a balance between campus press and institutional officials as they both fail in understanding the boundaries of acceptable free speech. 

 

The Blade’s editorial pinpointed everything I stand by in that a campus newspaper serves as a watchdog for a larger student and staff constituency, with emphasis on objective reporting and vigorous commentary. 

 

Since its inception, the student newspaper has played a vital role in voicing student concerns and reflecting student opinion. The weekly newspaper continues to produce rich content covering all areas of news and community. 

 

The paper is solely committed to uncovering the truth and takes great pride in publishing well-researched, fact-based stories. Our mission is to provide UT students and community with unbiased news. 

 

We strive to produce high quality content that covers the truth regardless of its consequences. 

 

We are fueled by our desire to establish transparency between the university and its students. Our reputation rests upon our writers and editors who are held to the highest standard of impartiality. 

 

Due to growing public concern surrounding biased journalism, the IC chooses to remain independent to preserve its freedom on reporting stories. 

 

We are committed to providing the public with real facts and correcting errors when necessary. As reporters, our basis for writing stories that uncover the truth is inspired by our passion, love and commitment towards journalism.
 

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