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Editorial: University independence shouldn’t determine student journalists’ coverage

The Post stands with the Society of Professional Journalists on a bill in Missouri.

The Post is afforded a luxury that increasingly fewer college newsrooms experience, and one that readers may not inherently be aware of: independence from the university it covers.

That independence is obtained through keeping Ohio University’s funding out of our editorial processes, and, though our business manager and digital marketing director are subsidized by the university, ensuring all editorial decisions are made by the students who work for and run The Post. The newspaper’s editor-in-chief is chosen by The Post Publishing Board, though the board’s role is otherwise an advisory one.

The ability to call ourselves “independent” is one our editors and reporters certainly don’t take for granted, as it’s pertinent to operating as a “real” newsroom might — without the editorial oversight of those sources its reporters so frequently write about.

We bring this up because, like we mentioned, it’s a luxury. College newspapers are not necessarily revenue-generating operations, and college newspapers take a bit of money to print. To stay afloat, it’s not uncommon for a student newspaper to accept grants and subsidies from its university to print a daily edition, or to fund the salaries of its editors and reporters. That puts reporters in a situation where the same sources they’re expected to hold accountable also maintain the ability to halt the presses or cut a paycheck.

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Earlier this month, Missouri State Rep. Elijah Haar, R-Springfield, introduced a bill to the state’s House of Representatives that states “a student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the school district or by use of of facilities of the school district or produced in conjunction with a class in which the student is enrolled.”

That law covers high school journalists, too, who are told even more often to cut a story on behalf of the sources that pay their paper’s way. The legislation — dubbed the Walter Cronkite New Voices Act — is a part of the “New Voices” bills filed in 20 state legislatures across the country, according to a news release from the Society of Professional Journalists.

According to New Voice’s website, Ohio University and high school journalists aren’t granted any additional protection or press freedom in covering the administrations that may fund them, and, in turn, attempt to censor them. That’s intensely problematic, and something our state’s legislators should be seeking to remedy.

At institutions where journalism is being taught and held to high esteem, whether or not a student media outlet is independent should not stand in the way of its ability to report on the news. We strongly urge this bill to pass so that all student have the opportunity to flex their journalistic muscles and grow as reporters.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Post's executive editors: Editor-in-Chief Emma Ockerman, Managing Editor Rebekah Barnes and Digital Managing Editor Samuel Howard. Post editorials are independent of the publication's news coverage.

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