In the era of Trump, a time of extreme political polarization, the line between fact and fiction has blurred. From Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway advocating the Trump Administration’s use of “alternative facts,” to Press Secretary Sean Spicer purposefully propagating untruths about the Trump Inauguration, to the President himself tweeting brazen and outrageous claims without restraint on his personal Twitter account, the trust that elected officials would not lie to the American people seems to no longer exist. In spite of this egregious behavior, the Trump administration seems to have few qualms about deflecting these concerns onto reputable news agencies. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump famously questioned the credibility of The Washington Post, labeling it “phony and dishonest” (The Washington Post, “Trump revokes Post press credentials, calling the paper ‘dishonest’ and ‘phony,’ 06.13.2016). Further, just a few days ago, Donald Trump called The New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC “fake news” and went on to call them “enemies of the American people” (ThinkProgress.Org, “Trump calls media ‘enemy’ of Americans, then launches survey to see who agrees,” 02.18.2017).
Through denouncing private news corporations who report dissent against him, Donald Trump’s goal seems to be the delegitimization of critiques of his administration, which means that journalism is seen as–and can serve as–a serious challenge and watchdog to the value and quality of his presidency. In the broader historical context of American journalism, reporting has been recognized as an important center of political discourse since the foundation of this country. For this reason, the First Amendment reserves the right to freedom of the press, a key component of our democratic state. Student journalism serves a similar role on a smaller scale: while mainstream journalism can provide transparency of government, world politics, the environment, etc., only student publications can wholly provide insight into the opinions of college students in the United States.
Student publications at Vassar College such as The Miscellany News and Boilerplate Magazine center the voices of students on issues that matter to them, whether that be the price of tuition, how federal- and state-level policies will affect college campuses, the state of Title IX and Affirmative Action, and beyond. Although millennials may feel that their voices are unheard in the general political scheme of the United States, student-run publications provide a platform to share ideas and disseminate important information. Furthermore, publications such as The Miscellany News and Boilerplate Magazine receive no funding from Vassar College directly, meaning that we are able to report as freely as we wish, without fear of repercussions from the College. Still, like mainstream journalism, student journalism has also received some pushback in the last few years.
Last year, The Miscellany News reported on an incident in which the University of Kentucky intended to sue its own student-run newspaper over records being published which stated that a University of Kentucky professor had been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault (“In silencing survivors, UKentucky threatens free speech,” 09.14.16). In a recent decision, a Circuit Court Judge in Kentucky sided with the University in not allowing the paper to publish the records, though the newspaper has stated its plans to appeal this decision (InsideHigherEd.com, “Protecting Student Privacy, or Reputation?”, 01.25.2017). In an era where student voices are suppressed under federal law, it is crucial to utilize platforms that are not yet under fire to center the voices of survivors and marginalized students.
Similar incidents have occurred closer to our campus as well, such as a petition by students at Wesleyan University to defund its newspaper, The Argus, in 2015 following the publication of a student’s op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. As the Student Press Law Center reported, about 500 issues of the paper were thrown away in protest and a petition was drafted to defund The Argus if specific demands were not met, such as publicizing the inner functions and budget of the paper and committing to feature marginalized voices (“Op-ed in Wesleyan Argus sparks outrage, petition to defund newspaper,” 09.23.2017).
In the spring of 2016, the Wesleyan Student Assembly took steps to remove all of The Argus’s unused funding for the rest of the semester–some of it raised by the newspaper itself or donated to the organization–without engaging in any form of dialogue with the newspaper staff (The Wesleyan Argus, “Editorial: We Need to Protect Publication Finances From WSA Politics,” 03.21.16). We at The Miscellany News disagree with the ways in which the student government thus delegitimized the importance of publishing diverse voices and opinions. While it is undoubtedly important to turn a critical eye to the content and operations of student publications, we must also continually strive to improve these publications.
We therefore wish to recognize the importance of student journalism on campuses around the country as not only a source of reliable information for students, but also as a necessary platform for the exchange of ideas, public debate and discussion.
Though Vassar may seem like a politically homogenous campus to some, those of us on campus know that this is not always the case. The Miscellany News, like all student publications, has a duty, in times of political turbulence and always, to act as a resource for whoever wishes to express their opinion to do so freely. We strive to uphold this role on campus, as well as to publish a wide variety of opinions in the spirit of broad representation and impartiality, though this does exclude content that is libel, slander or identity-based attacks.
To this end, we necessarily rely on submissions and participation on the part of the student body in order to best present all sides of a particular issue. There are a number of avenues through which to voice your opinion on an issue utilizing The Miscellany News’ unique position on campus. Submissions or tips through our website are always welcome, and we recognize the necessity of publishing all opinions as long as they are constructive and factual, and not actively harmful. We also offer a weekly Paper Critique, open to the Vassar community on Sundays at 9 p.m. in the Rose Parlor, as a way to reflect on the previous week’s issue and raise any criticisms or concerns going forward.
In a time when journalism is under consistent censure by the government, it is imperative to defend the institutions committed to reporting facts and representing the people. As a student journalism organization, The Miscellany News also feels a responsibility to look introspectively at our role on campus. We strongly encourage the campus community to utilize this platform in order to voice opinions and to better represent both shared and individual experiences. We at The Miscellany News strive to uphold the ideal on our campus that a free press is a crucial resource for the community it serves.
–– The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.