When I first visited Allegheny, the first place I wanted to find was the newspaper office. As it happened, the door was open when I found my way to the third floor of the campus center.
Inside, the then newspaper adviser Professor Cheryl Hatch was working with a student. She invited me in and began talking to me and my dad. In our conversation we talked about her work with the Associated Press, her time in Liberia, Egypt and Afghanistan, where she was embedded in a combat unit.
My meeting with Professor Hatch was a huge part of why I chose Allegheny. I had seen enough of journalism growing up as the son of a newspaper editor to know she was the real deal. She had been on the frontlines. She had the knowledge I needed and that few others could provide.
The other thing that struck me about Allegheny’s journalism in the public interest program was its emphasis on good ethical journalism. It was not just learning how to be a journalist, but how to practice journalism ethically and for the good of the public. Today, I fear Allegheny students are missing out.
The college has not had a designated professor of journalism in two years. The yearly conference which was started by Professor Hatch is gone, and more and more I feel the climate of Allegheny is turning on journalism, in this age of “fake news.”
Allegheny, the institution that educated Ida Tarbell, one of the original “muckrakers,” is allowing journalism to die.
We are living in a time where journalism has never been more important, and never been less appreciated or understood. President Donald Trump has even gone as far as to name the press as an enemy of the American people.
His claim is not entirely without validity. Our news media has never been more polarized. Organizations like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have shown us time and time again what journalism should not be. It is because of these news networks that we should be teaching students what good journalism can be, and how to evaluate sources.
Many have followed the president’s example in condemning the press. In 2017, then congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body slammed a reporter from The Guardian to the floor, breaking his glasses, after he had the nerve to ask him a difficult question. Gianforte initially denied the allegations, until a recording of the incident was released. He has since apologized, been charged with assault and elected to the House of Representatives.
Allegheny has played its own small part in the increased hostility and distrust of journalists. In just my four years at the paper, I have seen my fellow editors deal with professors, faculty and staff attacking the work which we do. One editor was even spit on by a fellow student. Often, the coverage these people had a problem with was accurate, but not to their liking. To my suprise, no administrator or student stepped forward to invoke Allegheny’s beloved statement of community. There was no community forum to discuss the issue, only silence.
Over the past four years, I have seen the college grow increasingly reluctant to speak with The Campus regarding stories. Even the simplest coverage like a new director of the counseling center often leads to silence from administrators or a list of unrealistic demands they should know no journalist would agree too.
There are of course things they cannot speak to us about, we realize that, but even the most basic stories sometimes meet with opposition and our papers are often removed from places like the admissions office lobby. Many at the college seem to think by ignoring the press they are protecting the college’s image. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Journalism is so important to our country and to our college, but we are creating an environment in which the press is made out to be the enemy, when it has so much to offer. It is not perfect, but it is the best option we have.
The professors currently teaching the journalism courses at Allegheny are outstanding, but we need to take this more seriously and give them what they need. People need to understand what the press is and what its role should be.
The students working at The Campus today are the best I have seen in four years. They are the type of students who Allegheny should be championing. They put in large amounts of their time for no pay and little class credit.
I hope Allegheny will re-evaluate its position on journalism. In an era with so much political corruption and so much misinformation, our country is going to need a strong group of journalists to fight for the people and hold power accountable.
I hope some of them, in the tradition of Ida Tarbell, will come from Allegheny.