Introducing Alanna Kaufman

By July 3, 2007

Our fifth blog entry comes from Alanna Kaufman, a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania.

Student Journalism: A Vital Responsibility

Last year, I sacrificed my Halloween weekend to travel with a friend to Kansas City, MO to attend a convention of college newspaper editors and writers. At the time, I was preparing to start my term as a news editor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s independent, student-run newspaper. I had reached peak optimism about the strength of the press on college campuses, and I was convinced that the micro-coverage that these newspapers provided to their schools could single-handedly expose and correct the countless woes of academia, particularly those regarding speech infringements.

But then I started talking to people.

It turns out that a number of colleges and universities across the country don’t have the ability to expose speech infringements because they are restricted themselves – by worried advisors or universities who control funding and negative exposure.  Furthermore, I spoke with some editors at newspapers that are independently-funded, and they said that will often back down from a particularly story simply due to pressure from university administrators. Ideally, newspapers and other publications on university campuses should assume crucial role in exposing unjust speech codes and First Amendment rights infringements at their schools. And when they can’t, we all suffer.

Glancing over cases featured on The Torch in the past several weeks, it is clear how crucial these newspapers, magazines, and other student outlets can be in uncovering rights infringements on their campuses. For example, the speech code at Northeastern University was first publicized by the Northeastern News, and appropriate attention has since been given to its problematic regulations. Likewise, I am proud of The Daily Pennsylvanian, which by no means always fulfills its speech-protecting duties, for breaking a story last year which led to the dismissal of a case that may have undeservedly punished a student for acting well within his protected rights. Even legislators have realized the necessity of a strong university press, as The Torch reported earlier:

The Illinois State Legislature has passed the College Campus Press Act, a bill that the Tribune reported “would allow college student journalists to write articles without fear that college officials could censor or bar publication of their work.” State Senator Susan Garrett, sponsor of the bill, said.

The link between college publications and the protection of free speech should not be difficult to draw – college journalists have a lot to lose from unfair codes. However, college media sources also benefit from a hyper-local audience because anything they publish is going to reach its intended reader or administrator; therefore they have real opportunities to exert pressure to change a certain policy.  Additionally, and sometimes unfortunately, students tend to care more about issue when they believe that other students care as well. And even when there are no scandals or lawsuits, there are still handbooks, policies and conduct cases for newspapers to investigate and report on. So I urge newspapers editors and staffers who maintain independence from their universities to fulfill the role they owe to their campuses – we are in the greatest position to do so.

Alanna Kaufman is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies English and Political Science. Alanna is originally from Bethesda, Maryland. Her non-academic interests include journalism, mentoring through Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and playing in Philadelphia. Alanna can be reached at alanna.kaufman@thefire.org.