Alumni fundraising to ‘save student media’ and on-campus free press
On Wednesday, April 11th, alumni of the Student Media Company launched a campaign to save the institution.
The Daily Campus announced two weeks ago that its parent company, Student Media Company, also home to the Rotunda yearbook, would be at the end of this school year.
“The Daily Campus was the most valuable thing I did at SMU. The journalism major was fine,” said Jessica Huseman, who was Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Campus from 2010-2011 and now works for ProPublica.
“SMU is not a place that values student voices or transparency,” Huseman said. “With the dissolving of Student Media Company, there is literally no incentive for SMU to be open about what it does,” she says, especially when the administration has tried many times in the past to kill stories that they find unfavorable.
“Starting in 2003-2004, SMU introduced a ‘student rights’ section into the handbook,” Huseman explained. “The first two rights were freedom of speech and the freedom to uncensored student press. In 2013-2014 it went away. In fact, the entire student rights section went away… There is now no free speech or freedom from censorship right at all, per the student handbook. I don’t know why or how this decision was made,” she said.
Here's a thing I just found. For years, the first 2 student rights mentioned in SMU's student handbook's were freedom of speech and freedom of the student press. In 2013/2014, that entire section disappeared. Pictured is 12/13. Here's link to 13/14: https://t.co/Im3zkFqxJs pic.twitter.com/T8NuaU9UwL
— Jessica Huseman (@JessicaHuseman) April 12, 2018
The lack of transparency also translates to the board of Student Media Company itself, Huseman said — the same institution that, in the past, so vehemently valued transparency.
“The Board chose not to inform anyone of their decision [to close Student Media Company] until three months after it was made,” Huseman said. If she and the other alumni had known sooner, she said, they could have done something sooner.
Student Media Company is closing due to lack of funds, board member and professor David Sedman said. The company, specifically The Daily Campus, can no longer support itself.
The current business model relies on ad sales to keep The Daily Campus alive.
“The financial setup doesn’t make sense,” Huseman said.
“The Daily Campus is a small newspaper, so advertisers aren’t seeing the return on their investment that they need. It doesn’t make sense to have a full-time adult staffer who is getting ad sales. Instead there should be a full-time adult staffer doing fundraising and donations. There are grants that exist that offer money to non-profit newspapers. We would qualify for those grants,” Huseman explained.
You may have seen the SMU @thedailycampus is losing independence, folding and going under school control, which subjects it to university censorship. Well, we're trying to save it, because that's not an acceptable format. Join and donate: https://t.co/vj0yOlZ2fq
— Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) April 12, 2018
The alumni who have banded together to save Student Media Company are aiming to raise $125,000 through GoFundMe.
“It only takes $125,000 a year to run The Daily Campus,” Huseman said. “You don’t have to rely on advertisements, but I don’t understand who no one has done anything about that.”
Decreased interest from advertisers comes from reasons two-fold, Huseman thinks: first, the industry-wide trend in decreased readership for print papers and, second, a diminishing in journalistic quality of The Daily Campus.
“Journalism [at SMU] has really gone downhill in the last four to five years,” said Huseman. “It’s frustrating for me to watch, as an alum, as they train journalists who are fundamentally disqualified to be investigative journalists.”
“We have SMU students come interview with us [at ProPublica] and they don’t even make it past the first round,” she said.
If the funding goal is met, Huseman and other Student Media Company alumni have plans to restructure the paper.
“We can make sure The Daily Campus exists for quite some time,” Huseman said.