Student journalism has been the cornerstone of many academic institutions, especially universities. With recent scandals that rocked prominent student newspapers such as The Harvard Crimson and The Daily Northwestern, a conversation about the future of journalism and the standards that we hold ourselves to is bound to happen. However, on this side of the world (or Amsterdam at least), student newspapers do not hold much gravity in a student’s everyday life. Thus, this raises the question: What does this mean for student-run newspapers at the University of Amsterdam?
2019: A breakthrough in student reporting
This year’s Pulitzer Prizes had a special mention at the start of its awards announcements: The Eagle Eye, a student newspaper at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had submitted an entry for their coverage and consequent memorial issue of the Parkland shooting on February 14, 2018. Dana Canedy, the Pulitzer awards’ administrator, commended them for their work and said that the 44 student reporters and editors had done exceptional work in their reporting as “both survivors, journalists, and loved ones of the deceased”.
Another endeavor of student journalism into more professional circles led to the launch of a new summer reporting program by the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Receiving approval from campus authorities as the university’s watchdogs, they soon set out into investigating their own school, which was rocked by scandals such as a campus gynecologist who received 16 accusations of sexual assault in mid-2018. This led to the further investigation of a lawsuit made by male USC alumni, where they alleged that a campus doctor sexually abused them during medical examinations.
On the other hand, there has been no shortage of backlash against student newspapers, most prominently against The Harvard Crimson, who covered a rally against the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the end, The Crimson asked an ICE representative if the agency to comment. This led to the rally’s organizers, Act on a Dream, demanding a boycott. The action taken by Act on a Dream stems from the concern that the wellbeing of their undocumented peers will be put at risk due to possible retaliation from ICE. In response, the president and managing editor of The Harvard Crimson published a note to their readers reaffirming and justifying their decision to contact all parties named in their story, which included ICE.
Following in The Crimson’s footsteps, the student newspaper The Daily Northwestern received considerable criticism for their coverage of protests in response to the public appearance of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions at Northwestern University. The pictures of the protest, which included the faces of protestors, were publicised. Student activists criticized this, pointing out the risk of identification and subsequent punishment by either the school or other parties. In reply to the criticism, editors at the newspaper apologized for the publication of the photos and for identifying protestors for comments. This led to a wave of outrage and further criticism from various professional journalists, especially online, who countered that the newspaper’s actions were basic journalistic practices.
Our university’s newspapers
The University of Amsterdam, of course, has its own newspaper – Folia. Described as a ‘journalistic medium’ for the students, teachers, and employees at the UvA, Folia has been reporting since 1984. Much of the content is in Dutch, but they have an ever-growing collection of articles written in English; the English articles are aimed at an international audience and often concerns societal integration into Dutch society, the local housing shortage, student initiatives, and intimate profiles of UvA students.
In Communication Science itself, you’d get to choose (or not!) between two student newspapers: Medium, which is the online magazine for our study association Mercurius, and the fully independent The Amsterdammer newspaper and magazine. The former focuses on issues connected to Communication Science, while the latter often tackles a wide range of topics, ranging from standard university news to happenings around town. But there’s no denying that our student newspapers have not really taken off the way that many of our counterparts have.
Recently, Folia reported on the sexual harassment allegations made against a former law professor at UvA, whose name is obligated by law to be redacted from all publications about this case. While this made national news with NRC publishing an exposé about the professor in question, none of this information ever really reached students in other faculties, especially international ones. Following these publications, a Dutch court ruled that any mention of the law professor’s identity in any past and future articles should be scrubbed clean in order to prevent any further damage to his personal reputation and preserve his and his family’s privacy.
This is an impassioned call for us to do better and rise to the occasion
The fact that many of us don’t know the happenings around our campus is hard to grapple with; how, then, can students feel safe and secure when these things with such great magnitude, and personal and professional significance are happening without our awareness? As student journalists, we should be taking a critical look at our surroundings, especially at the university we spend day after day studying at. To claim that we are part of an organization founded by students and catering to students is to be also invested in their safety and well-being. It’s not to say that the work that we are doing right now is insignificant; this is an impassioned call for us to do better and rise to the occasion.
Cover: Roman Kraft