The student newspaper at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown will keep its student government-allocated funding despite student-led efforts to eliminate the paper’s subsidies.
After The Advocate began printing a compilation of student crime citations, an anonymous petition surfaced to cut the entirety of the paper’s print budget – nearly $9,000. The petition, which was presented at a March 14 student government meeting, argued that publishing crime reports was creating a hostile campus environment and hurting future job prospects for named students.
“This policy and practice is creating a hostile environment on campus and could potentially prevent students from seeking employment or admission to graduate school,” the petition read in part.
When the petition was first filed, the university’s humanities division chairman, Michael Stoneham, told the Daily American that he feels student reporters have to be “objective” and take into consideration the emotional distress a report can have on a student.
“To be fair you have to treat all failures as failure … at the time, I don’t believe it is a reporter’s reason to condemn, malign a person,” he said. “I think that when presenting the record, I think you have to present it that it doesn’t represent particular bias by the reporter, the school.”
However, student body president Kyle Maguire announced on March 22 that he would veto any attempts to cut The Advocate’s funding.
“I definitely want The Advocate here. It’s our student newspaper,” Maguire told WJAC, Pittsburgh’s local NBC affiliate. “It’s an important student organization on campus.”
According to WJAC, The Advocate editor-in-chief Peijia Zhang said the paper would not stop publishing crime reports despite the public backlash.
“If we do not acknowledge these public records – public criminal records – publicly, we are kind of setting a lower standard,” she said.
The Advocate is hardly the first student newspaper to face threats of funding reduction over controversial coverage. In recent years, papers at Wesleyan University, the University of Redlands, the University of Kansas, and Delta State University, among others, have faced financially based censorship based on coverage.
The American Association of University Professors, the College Media Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Student Press Law Center in a 2016 report for the Association of American University Presidents outlined the issues of financial censorship for student journalists.
“The knowledge that continued financial support for a journalism program, adviser, or publication may be contingent on pleasing campus authorities imposes a chill on the independence of journalistic coverage that invariably will produce more timid journalism that ill serves the public interest,” the report said.
The report also argued that for student journalism to be at its most effective, whatever entity supplies funding to the paper must be completely separated from any editorial decisions.
“Effective campus journalism requires a source of financial support fully insulated from content-based judgments by those who are the subjects of the journalists’ coverage,” the report said.