Marcus Franklin came to college interested in computers. A bright man with envious verbal and math skills, Marcus joined his college newspaper staff at the insistence of a professor who recognized his writing talent.
His involvement and work on the staff rapidly increased – from one or two small feature stories for the bimonthly paper to five or six per issue, plus a regular column.
A mere six months later, Marcus is a beat reporter assigned to cover the Student Government Association for The Cluster at Mercer University. Since beginning his investigative quest of the student government, Marcus has scrutinized the funding allocation process, investigated random bylaw changes by senators, kept tabs on which organizations get money and how much, and thoroughly covered the elections process, from the debates through ballot-counting.
Marcus is the reason I love teaching journalism – and particularly love advising a student newspaper. For all the students who join the campus newspaper staff because they want money or think it will look good on a rÈsumÈ, there is a Marcus Franklin who discovers a whole new world as a reporter and embraces its power.
As a journalism educator, I recognize that my job is not to make Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists out of my students. That job belongs to you, the professional journalists, and ultimately to them.
My job is to inspire college students – who often come to school hell-bent on getting a degree and earning a salary four or five years later – to desire owning a Pulitzer.
And there is no better place than the college newspaper for such inspiration. The same can be true at the high school level, but given the greater freedom courts have so far granted the collegiate press, the college newspaper experience is more realistic for understanding the potential power of the press.
But even better than the professional press, a college newspaper tends to have less fear. Though funding issues are ever present, a college student newspaper is less worried about whether readers or advertisers are going to be upset by the views presented. In fact, often a college newspaper hopes for such indignation from some segment; that is how they gauge their success in getting students to read the paper.
Since coming to Mercer University nearly two years ago as adviser to The Cluster, I have watched my student reporters and editors learn that their newspaper can be a powerful tool for making things happen on their campus.
The newspaper uncovered a suspect budgeting process for student organizations that resulted in the administration’s admission that it tried to roll tens of thousands of dollars into the university’s general fund over the previous summer.
The newspaper has started a much-needed and still often-criticized dialogue about race issues on campus. For a private school in the Southeast that boasts an 18 percent minority student population, it is about time students had a real exchange of opinions. Without the newspaper, much of the opinions would have remained in small circles.
The newspaper has slowly made administrators understand that avoiding reporters who are trying to find out newsworthy information is only going to hurt their credibility. Not talking to the newspaper about decreases in scholarships or increases in tuition is not the way to deal with a student body. Without the college newspaper calling attention to such issues and forcing administrators to be accountable for their decisions, a lot more business could occur behind close doors.
Without a doubt, The Cluster, like many college newspapers across the country, is fulfilling its role as a watchdog and public forum. And compared to many established campus newspapers, it still has a long way to go before it exemplifies what a student newspaper can and should be.
But the transition taking place is nothing short of a revolution. And we – journalism educators and scholastic newspaper advisers – need more help from the professional press to make sure these transitions continue and happen all over.
Spend time critiquing student papers. Offer to give workshops once or twice a year in your newsroom. Let student reporters shadow you for a day. Support the scholastic paper when it stands up to censorship via prior review or funding cuts.
I plan to send Marcus and many others who follow him to your news organizations. And I hope you make him a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Laurie Lattimore is an assistant professor of journalism at Mercer University.