Photo courtesy of Helena Farrar
The staff of the Nevada Sagebrush poses for student journalists’ day of action on April 16, 2018 in the Sagebrush office on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Student journalists across the country are organizing for a day of action on Wednesday, April 25, to save their student newsrooms from shutting down — and The Nevada Sagebrush plans to join them.

The importance of student-run newsrooms is severely understated. They provide niche coverage on university affairs, help prepare students for the workforce and provide them with opportunities they wouldn’t normally have.

Student-run publications across the country are suffering. Much like professional newsrooms, their budgets are being cut, advertising is at an all-time low and the number of paid journalists decreases every year. All newsrooms must figure out how to stay afloat while transitioning into a digital era. Unlike professional newsrooms, student media must fix their monetary situation by themselves, or risk their editorial independence.

How are we going to expect 19-to-22 year olds to fix the publication crisis the entire country is suffering from and has not yet fixed?

The professional publications that are making it work require a paid subscription or have a high number of donations. Student newsrooms can’t ask for their audience — students — to make donations or pay a subscription. So this leaves student newsrooms to rely on other sources of revenue that all come with a catch-22.

The first is to rely on the university to fund the student newspaper. This is a reality of the majority of student newspapers across the country. This is problematic for a number of reasons. When a university controls the money, they can also control the content published — or rather, not published — in student newspapers.

Last semester, this university faced public relations crises involving racism and diversity issues from students and university departments. The most notorious was when a student was not only identified but used as the face of the Unite the Right white supremacy march in Charlottesville, South Carolina in August. Yes, the university received national coverage because of this. However, there was far less coverage about the reaction the university had to this situation and the magnitude of the issues that followed. But The Nevada Sagebrush was there.

We have been there, writing about student town halls, asking the university administration tough questions and making sure attention on this issue is not going away. We’re not saying our coverage was perfect, but it was necessary. If we were funded by the university, who knows if we would’ve been able to write these things and ask these questions. If we were funded by the university, they could cut our budget if they did not like what we were writing. We are not saying this would happen, but it could, and it has at other universities.

“But without independence […] we can’t bring you, our readers, the stories you need,” wrote Indiana State’s student newspaper when they were facing editorial issues this year. “We are not the University’s personal public relations firm, and we have to write stories that matter.”

Along the same thread, publications could be funded by student governments, which are funded by student fees. This seems like a fairly good idea — why not ask students to pay for the publications that are made from them? It’s a bit more complicated than that. Usually, the bulk of content in student newspapers are about the student government. If they were funding the paper, this would seriously compromise the integrity of the coverage. Student governments also could refuse to give the funds to the student publications.

Student publications at UNR, besides The Sagebrush, are funded by ASUN and this has not been a problem. However, it’s not a total stretch. Before UNLV’s student newspaper was funded by The Las Vegas Review-Journal, they were funded by their student government and had to sue them for the money that was supposed to be theirs. UNLV is one of many student publications across the country that has had to do this.

The third source of revenue could come from donations. A lot of publications run on donations, and there aren’t a lot of ethical issues surrounding the idea. However, donations are not a stable way to run a publication. The amount of money can vary from year to year and is unreliable.

Student newspapers also compete within the university for donations. When alumni of the university donate, they often favor the athletics department or the academic program he or she graduated from. Rarely do they think about the student newspaper.

Most student newspapers (including ours) rely on advertising revenue to fund their entire operation. However, advertising numbers are in decline like most revenue sources. Our newspaper, like most across the country, is struggling to make the amount of money necessary to fund our publication. A few years ago, these numbers were easy to reach, but for the last few years, we have had to cut pages, positions and wages to keep us afloat. There is no more to cut, and we are still relying solely on advertising. We are better off than a lot of students newspapers across the country, but we are staring into the abyss now.

Student newsrooms are taken for granted. Without them, students would not be able to practice what they are taught in their journalism programs. When students apply to internships and jobs, employers like to see they are published in student media.

Student journalists at The Nevada Sagebrush have been alumni of some of the best and most famous publications in the country as interns and employees — from the Los Angeles Times to ABC in Washington, D.C. These opportunities and experiences would not have been awarded to these students without their involvement in the newspaper. Similarly, we are an award-winning publication, and we boast prestigious alumni in the journalism community. Careers start at student publications, and now they’re at risk.

On April 25 and beyond, we encourage you to support the student publications at your alma mater or in your community — whether it be through donations, advertising and more. Students are doing the important work that needs to be done while juggling classes, assignments and other jobs. They are underpaid and overworked — like most people are — but they don’t do the work for the money. They do it for the experience and the opportunities it will bring them. Without student newsrooms, none of this exists.

Please support and save student newsrooms. Visit savestudentnewsrooms.com for more information about the movement.

The Editorial Board can be reached at jsolis@sagebrush.unr.edu, and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.