At first glance, Colorado College and UCCS might not have many similarities. But look more closely and you can find something that the private liberal arts college and the state-supported university do share: the presence of weekly newspapers, run by the students.
At CC, students can find The Catalyst and at UCCS it's The Scribe (full disclosure, I'm the faculty advisor for The Scribe and spent a few years working on its staff during my undergraduate education).
In its 2015 newsroom census, the American Society of Newspaper Editors reported a loss of 3,800 jobs nationally since 2013 — significant when you realize there are just 32,900 journalists working full-time at 1,400 daily newspapers. So why would universities continue the tradition of student journalism? Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, sees two reasons for college newspapers to exist.
First, he says, "As a training opportunity, it's still an irreplaceable experience for young people to run their own newsroom and make their own editorial judgments."
Even if these students don't pursue a career in traditional journalism, LoMonte says the skill set that students receive from running their own business will translate no matter where they go.
Sure, I've seen students go on to careers in journalism (former Scribe editor Jesse Byrnes went on to be a fellow-turned-staff writer for The Hill in D.C., where he's covering this crazy election). I've also seen former staffers go on to careers in technical writing, public relations and the law, to name a few.
The other role student journalists play, amid a shrinking industry, is to bring college news to the community, LoMonte says. When newsroom budgets shrink, higher-education beat reporters become education beat reporters adding K-12 to their coverage. Covering the news of the university — and keeping the administration accountable — falls to college media.
LoMonte worries campus newspapers might start to disappear as the same woes that plague mainstream media will impact college media — shrinking readership and diminishing advertising revenue.
As advisor, each year I remind students of their simple mission: They are the only entity in the universe whose purpose is to cover UCCS. Sometimes our campus news makes local (even national) headlines — such as when UCCS Officer Garrett Swasey was killed responding to the call for help at Planned Parenthood last November. The Scribe provided coverage not about an officer's fate but of a member of campus whom the students knew.
And sometimes it's the same stories told to a new batch of students: enrollment, coping with the stress and the evergreen story of campus parking.
When I asked our outgoing editor Jonathan Toman about highlights from his two-year stint as editor, he didn't want to talk about particular stories. He talked about the team that put out that paper each week. He was responsible for hiring the entire editorial staff, and the camaraderie and friendships built around the weekly deadlines will likely outlast journalism as we know it.
Former Indy editor Kathryn Eastburn taught journalism and worked with CC student writers for eight years (she left in May and now is practicing journalism in Mississippi). The Catalyst makes a difference by offering a variety of voices and points of view on issues swirling around campus, she says in an email.
"Last year, in particular, I remember The Catalyst really opening up — I think unpacking is the popular term — the topic of diversity or lack of diversity on the CC campus," Eastburn wrote. "This is a topic that has been treated with kid gloves for many years."
Through photographs, reporting on CC's efforts, student essays and discussion with international students, young journalists addressed the difficult subject. Eastburn says it might be difficult to measure the actual impact, but at least the conversation was started.
Seeing the energy that goes into student newspapers gives me hope for journalism's future. The beauty of college newspapers comes from students determining editorial direction, defining issues and letting campus voices be heard. In a series this spring, Catalyst reporters focused on the city's controversial Pedestrian Access Act. Through news articles and an editorial, CC student journalists provided perspective with one article highlighting a first-year student's protest efforts.
"Administrators talk a great game about producing civically engaged students," LoMonte says. "Journalism is civic engagement in action."