This February, at a conference attended by the editors of 10 college newspapers along the East Coast—myself among them—student journalists recognized a common obstacle plaguing their publications: Student activists would no longer talk with them.
As student activists call for the institutions around them to confront issues of diversity and inclusion, campus newspapers have been critiqued as well. But activists are not just calling for reform—editors of campus papers are struggling to improve their papers alongside student bodies that, in some cases, would like to see student newspapers as an institution disappear.
Students boycotted the Brown Daily Herald (BDH), where I am a news editor, after it published two racist opinion pieces for which it later apologized. Since then, students have used the publication’s controversial past as reason to refuse comment and even to remove reporters from campus-wide events. These kinds of conflicts have erupted on campuses across the country. Melissa Click, a former assistant professor at the University of Missouri who was eventually fired, tried to stop a student reporter from covering a campus protest. Student activists at Smith College told student journalists they would be barred from a black-solidarity rally unless they vowed to “participate and articulate their solidarity with black students and students of color.” Even a headline can ignite backlash: Yale Daily News (YDN) journalists have struggled to interact with social-justice advocates on campus since the paper ran an article about accusations that a fraternity discriminated against people of color with the headline “SAE denies charges of racism.”