December 6, 2016

Letter to the editor: Budget cuts silence students’ stories

For the last few weeks, I have written and re-written this letter. It has been an emotional time for those of us affiliated with Webster University’s student media. In full disclosure, I was editor of The Journal for the 2011-2012 academic year. This is an issue that I feel passionately about, given my personal background and connection to the publications on campus.

You may have read about the proposed cuts to student media budgets in last week’s issue in a story titled “Student media may see budget cut in fall.” The story outlines a proposal that would all but decimate student media on campus, taking away more than 80 percent of all student media funding. The plan would still allow for a digital newspaper edition, but would limit student media to one Ampersand magazine publication and four Journal newspaper publications, and cut staff from both publications as well as the Galaxy student radio.

I could focus my letter on the immense benefits a thriving student media provides universities and local communities. Student journalists have helped bring to light several university scandals and instances of fraud around the country, such as the students who contributed during the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal. Student media gives an outlet for students to express their opinions (much like I am doing with this letter). Magazines, radio stations and student television all showcase student work and start dialogue on campuses about vital issues students face today.

I could also focus my letter on the benefits student media affords to communications students. I have seen the great work peers in my program produce, and I absolutely point  to the education and experience we received at Webster. Webster graduates get jobs after graduation, whether in multimedia or traditional print fields. That would not be possible without a publication. Webster’s journalism program has placed or won in the national Pacemaker awards consistently since 2010, as well as local Missouri college awards. It is absolutely a benefit to claim these publications on your résumé.

What I will focus my letter on is my Webster story. I clearly remember visiting campus as a senior in high school. I’m the first in my family to attend college, and I dared to dream that someday I could attend a school like Webster. I was terrified, as I’m sure some of you can relate to when you visited campus. I knew journalism was the track for me, and I was eager to see what I could learn here.

Walking into the newsroom, overcrowded with computers and cluttered with papers strewn about, was an experience I would almost classify as magical. Everything clicked for me in that moment, and I knew this was the place for me. I loved the close-knit family feel of the staffers I got to meet that day. I loved that I could begin writing for the paper, gain experience and get published as a first-year student.

For many of the communications students, student media is our Webster experience. It’s what drew us to the school, and it became our home. I met many of my friends in that newsroom. We worked until 5 a.m. together, we cried over emotional stories together and we laughed at inside jokes together. The dedication, the passion, the creativity and the struggle is what has made the journalism program move forward and improve in the past few years. Now it seems that experience may end with this year’s class.

I acknowledge that the university is in a difficult position, and that administrators must do what they can to keep Webster afloat in times of economic distress. But the proposed budget cuts do more than force a department to downsize, or to upgrade to new technology. Discontinuing the publications of all student media takes away opportunities for current and future students to learn and to thrive. It seriously limits the information Webster students have access to by removing the important watchdog function of the media. It takes away a home for communications students – my home for the four years I was at Webster.

To the members of Webster’s administration, I just want to know: Is the financial gain worth taking away my story, my home?

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