Appreciation for Excellent Student Journalism

By JASON MITTELL

Please take a moment to consider and appreciate what you are reading — not this specific op-ed, but the larger newspaper or website of The Middlebury Campus. This is the product of student journalism, created by a team of unpaid reporters, editors, photographers, and managers who spend hours each week working exceptionally hard to produce quality journalism on top of their regular academic obligations, activities, jobs, and personal lives.

We live in a historical moment where journalists are regularly disparaged and slandered as “the enemy of the people” by some political leaders, and even those of us who appreciate journalism are less apt to praise and pay for this work. So why would Middlebury students spend their scant free time doing journalism? We do not have a journalism major here, so working on The Campus is always going to be in addition to, and rarely integrated into, academic studies. While every student journalist has their own particular motivations, they are all committed to the shared mission of informing and engaging the Middlebury community around the issues that matter to us. They are working for us—and we should not take that for granted.

I serve as the faculty adviser for the The Campus, which is even more of a hands-off role than you could imagine — I only “advise” on the rare instance where a question of institutional policy emerges and I never engage in editorial decisions or priorities, functioning primarily as a required name on MiddLink. The Campus is one of Middlebury’s most robust sites of peer education and leadership, where cohorts of students learn from each other, passing along wisdom by training the next generation who will take their place on the masthead. For us faculty who often struggle to devise group projects where students can successfully collaborate independently and reconcile their differences to create a product better than the sum of individual contributions, The Campus is a model to emulate.

Longtime members of the Middlebury community should recognize that The Campus has recently embraced a different attitude toward its own journalism and relationship to the institution. Especially over the past three years, the paper has tackled some of the most difficult moments in Middlebury’s modern history with a dogged commitment to accurate reporting and investigation, and at times an adversarial attitude toward the powers that be. This year the paper has taken on big projects, producing exceptional special issues on the November election, staff anxiety in the wake of workforce planning, and last week’s Zeitgeist survey on student attitudes. They have covered controversies that have reverberated far beyond Vermont, always with a firm commitment to ensuring that no matter what our differences in opinion and perspective might be, we must have a shared understanding of relevant facts and contexts. In many instances, they have greatly outperformed the work of professional journalists.

For these many reasons, I urge you to take a moment to read the bylines and the masthead, identifying the people behind the words and images you’ve consumed this year. If you know any of these student journalists, let them know that you appreciate their efforts (and feel free to offer constructive critique too!) — I want to particularly acknowledge and give thanks to the graduating seniors who have led The Campus this academic year: Will DiGravio, Nick Garber, and Rebecca Walker. And if you’re a student with years left at Middlebury, consider joining this fine roster of journalists working to keep our community informed and engaged.

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