What to do if your program is under threat because of COVID-19

If you have been told by administrators or student government that:

  • You must stop publishing due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • You can’t cover the pandemic even though you are taking proper measures to protect your health and the well being of those around you
  • You can’t produce yearbook pages about how the pandemic affected your school
  • News outlet funding is curtailed/ended for the rest of the academic year

The Student Press Law Center has an array of resources which can help. We want to be sure that you know your rights and can ward off opportunistic efforts to cut your program, censor your publication, or even close your program. What follows is a list of tips, resource sheets, legal guides and links which will help you if you find your publication under threat.

Related: More coronavirus resources from SPLC

The first line of defense always is to contact the Student Press Law Center legal hotline for help. The hotline is a free resource staffed by expert attorneys who can help you work through any issue which arises. Along with important information applicable to your situation, we can provide a personalized letter about why your student news outlet is considered an “essential service” during a national emergency, or you can download a general one here.

A few pro-tips to focus you as you deal with the stress of administrative threats to your publication: 

Expose Censorship / Promote Your Good Journalism

 Advocate Against Budget Cuts

 Expand Revenue / Raise Funds

  • Fighting a budget cut takes time and cuts aren’t always reversible. To keep your operation functioning, check out these financial tips for student publications including creating newsletters, educating your entire staff on the business side of the publication and combining advertising across student media platforms. 
  • If your news outlet has the capacity to receive donations, put a ribbon across the top of your home page or a prominent box on the side of the homepage seeking immediate support – and be sure to explain why the appeal is being made now.
  • Be strategic with the way you pursue ads and work with advertisers:
    • Many student publications are experiencing a dramatic spike in online traffic as their peers search for information on the coronavirus — if this is true of your publication, use it when negotiating rates with advertisers. 
    • Try creating more ad space on your site so you can have more advertisers. Learn about sizing standards for online and digital ads from the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
    • Think about on campus recruiting events that were canceled. Reach out to employers who were supposed to be part of career fairs to see if they would be interested in purchasing a digital ad.
    • Give advertisers who shut down operations and couldn’t advertise digitally a voucher to advertise in the fall. 
    • Consider pushing payments out or offering refunds to businesses facing hardship because of the virus. Discuss offering delayed billing for businesses that are continuing with online ads. Building long-lasting relationships with advertisers will help you in the long run.
  • Create a team with staff members, student media advisers and staff from your business office who can work to develop a financial plan for your immediate crisis and allocate funds in the upcoming academic year. 
  • Contact organizations like the College Media Business and Advertising Managers and Society of Professional Journalists to see if they can provide support or guidance for financial planning. This is also an opportunity to think creatively how you can diversify revenue streams for your student publication.

Finally, you can also find an overview of great tips in this report authored by the Student Press Law Center, in partnership with American Association of University Professors, the College Media Association and the National Coalition Against Censorship: “Threats to the Independence of Student Media” 

And remember, contact the SPLC Legal Hotline for help. Write the story. We’ve got your back.