Time for the Southwestern Sun to rise digitally

Maybe it’s because I’m still only five years removed from my Chico State days (and the hangovers that came with it), but I have a big spot in my heart for college journalism.

Inside that big spot, a significant chunk holds itself firm against attempts by colleges to stifle and censor their campus newspapers. This probably has to do with the fact that I was a senior when the Hosty v. Carter case was at its most active. I was representing Chico at the Society of Professional Journalists national convention that year, and virtually every student journalist there was pretty worried about that.

So, when a situation comes down like what is going on at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, I’m paying attention.

This story from the San Diego Union-Tribune gives a rundown of what’s going on. Basically, the college administration claims the paper cannot print again until they adhere to a policy that went unenforced for two decades. Conveniently, this policy is enforced right before a particularly contentious board of trustees election and the paper has no chance to get it’s printing contract approved before the election.

OK, so this technically isn’t a First Amendment violation. Saying, “You can’t print because we don’t like you” is a violation. But saying “We aren’t saying you can’t print, but we’re going to suddenly drag up an old policy we’ve never bothered to enforce in 20 years and spring it on you in order to keep you from printing, which is the primary way your message gets out, and by the way, we really don’t like you” isn’t.

There’s the letter of the law, and there’s a spirit of it, and the second one is being violated big-time here.

There’s not much doubt that the college’s trustees don’t have a lot of love for the paper. Look at this interview with a trustee:

Student journalists have been too negative, Roesch said.

“Scores of negative articles in the Southwestern Sun has stripped the paper of the dignity it once possessed and we want to restore the confidence in the quality of education,” she said. “The quality of the newspaper is indicating the need for better direction from the editors and staff. They have a responsibility to put the college first. The writing needs to be more professional. If they feel they have to write something negative, let them do it with respect.”

Translation: Don’t be a newspaper, be a cheerleader. This attitude infuriates me so much. Be negative with respect? How oxymoronic can you get? They don’t have to be respectful or positive if they don’t want to, because THEY DON’T WORK FOR YOU.

Not to mention, this is far from hack journalism going on at Southwestern. The Sun has won National Pacemaker Awards (college journalism’s equivalent to the Pulitzer) in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. If anything, this says The Sun better now than ever.

Staff is fund raising to print an edition independent of the college. But, having taken a look around, I think something else the Sun needs to do is ramp up it’s online presence, big time. Not only does it give a giant middle finger to the administration and board (which is badly needed here), but it better prepares Sun staffers for what’s happening in the professional field. Here’s a few things they can do to start:

Website: The Sun actually has a very nice website. Now it’s time to use it more, and start using tactics to drive traffic to it. Put the link on all the now-empty newspaper racks. Obtain a QR code, get it printed onto stickers, and put them up around and near campus guerilla-style to give people quick access to the site with smartphones. Put up something new every single day.

Facebook: The Sun has a Facebook page, but there’s only been one brief statement put up since this whole hullabaloo started. Facebook is great for quick updates. Beg more people to follow it, and then start posting more items on it so people have something to follow. Link to the stories other media are doing on the situation.

Twitter: There’s been some stuff on Twitter, but they can do more. Link out to other stories. Make sure the Tweets say what the updates on the situation are, don’t just say “update on the situation”

Solicit money: If there’s not a PayPal of some kind set up for people to donate money toward the printing of the paper, for crying out loud, get one going!

Make a phone call: to State Sen. Leland Yee’s office, if it hasn’t happened already. He has a history of being aggressive in defending student journalist’s rights.

I’ll conclude with a story: Two years ago, I went back to Chico to give a critique of The Orion to the staff. Didn’t get much time to chat with my old adviser, Dave Waddell, because he was busy giving a tour of the university and the journalism department to a group of JC journalists. After my critique, I ran into some of that group down by the Bell Memorial Union. I was blown away by the kind of enthusiasm they had for the craft.

That group of JC journalists was from Southwestern College. So maybe I want to see them win not just to fight censorship, but because I kind of liked that enthusiasm that’s missing so much in the pro field.

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