No Journalism on Campus Leaves Us with Fake News

No Journalism on Campus Leaves Us with Fake News

by Jill White, faculty advisor


           By now you may have heard that the administration has decided to shut down Moody’s campus newspaper for Jill White Column Cardbudgetary reasons, cutting staff salaries and re-directing elsewhere the $10-per-year student fees that supplied our budget. On the one hand, this makes sense: Moody’s recent financial woes have been well-documented.

            However, at the Standard, we’ve been aware of these pressures for several years, and have attempted to reduce our largest cost—hourly salaries for the staff—by suggesting easier-to-budget stipends. These attempts have gone nowhere at least twice. Other attempts to offer subscriptions to parents during Orientation (to help cover printing and mailing costs) have likewise been thwarted. In addition, the thousands of dollars in ad revenue that we’ve collected over the last decade have gone to a centralized fund, making it impossible for us to direct those funds toward defraying our costs.

            We have always been willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep a news outlet on campus for one very important reason: the loss of a venue that encourages investigation, interviewing, impartial reporting and fact-checking leaves a vacuum that is unlikely to be filled with more of the same. It’s far more likely that rogue “underground” publications—which some of our detractors have already threatened to distribute—will spring up to fill the vacancy. This is dangerous.

            To learn about this danger, one need look no further than Taylor University, where in 2018 an underground conservative publication called “Excalibur” caused a great deal of uproar, polarization, and pain on campus, as reported by Christianity Today. Though the creators (two professors and two staff members) did eventually come forward, the damage to the community is still being repaired, with different groups still “talking past one other”, according to Relevant Magazine.

            If underground publications start up here on campus, who will vet the content? At the Moody Standard, our articles must be researched and attributed. We strongly encourage our writers to conduct interviews of primary or expert sources, if possible, and discourage them from using information from biased or agenda-based sources (such as Mother Jones) or from aggregate news sites like the Huffington Post. We insist that our writers include their sources with their pieces, and we often send back their stories asking for stronger sources and clearer attribution. All this before each piece goes through a minimum of four editors, who may further challenge some of the claims.

            Opinion pieces are a slightly different matter. Though they also go through a four-step editing process, these pieces reflect the opinions of their authors, something we forbid in our news pieces (I’ve been known to slash a news piece in half by removing the writer’s editorializing). When we have enough lead time with an opinion piece, we request alternative points of view from members of our community, preferably professors. We also never hesitate to publish rebuttals from those who take exception to the views in these pieces. We don’t publish opinion pieces that merely intend to discredit or defame Moody, its administration, or its community members and generally avoid printing anything submitted to us anonymously. We have occasionally printed an anonymous piece if the issue is one that we feel the community could benefit from discussing, but when we do, we alert the public relations department and the administration ahead of time.

            A Christian campus MUST embrace good journalism. As a discipline, journalism seeks the truth, unvarnished by bias or presumption. This doesn’t mean that it always succeeds—it’s nearly impossible for any (fallen) journalist to completely remove his or her worldview from the work. But good journalists try. This is evident in the four main principles of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics: 1. Seek truth and report it; 2. Minimize harm; 3. Act independently; 4. Be accountable and transparent. Honestly, who understands the struggle of meeting such lofty standards better than Christians? And who understands the need for grace in pursuit of those standards better than Christians?

Without a venue for the journalists on our campus, the student body is in danger of being left to the futility of internet comment or Twitter “debates” about crucial issues. And there’s no need for us to whitewash or avoid these issues; far better, we feel, for faculty and students to read about them in our paper and then hold critical, educational classroom discussions about them (just ask Dr. Milco’s students).

            In our latest (possibly last) issue, we reported that the campus newspaper is Moody’s longest-running student group; in fact, this semester marks the end of our 84th year. As such, we have hundreds upon hundreds of alumni who have worked tirelessly over the years to put together an unbroken line of approximately 850 issues. Many of you have told us over the years that in your time working on the Moody Standard (or Moody Student, as it was called until ten years ago) you learned more than you did in some of your classes. We know you understand the important role that the newspaper has played on campus over the years, so we are asking for your help.

            You can start by writing to the board, the alumni association, or the president’s or the provost’s office. You can call, post on social media, tweet, whatever (in fact, I invite you to share this post with whomever you’d like). Let them know you don’t want to see the student newspaper disappear from campus. Alumni outcry saved the yearbook from a similar fate several years ago, and it could work again. With your help, we can continue to fight for good journalism on campus.

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    2 Comments

    1. Sheri Finlayson

      May 2, 2019

      This is so disappointing…for all the reasons you stated. But on a personal level, our daughter has her heart set on coming to Moody and her interest is to be a journalist. She’s the editor of her school yearbook next year and wants to use her gifts and abilities for ministry. This is discouraging to us .

      Reply
    2. Jessica H

      May 3, 2019

      This is terrible news. I’m not a Moody grad, but my husband attended for a year, my father is a graduate, and we have many friends who are alumni.

      Let’s be honest: College administrators allocate money toward what they value and what they hope the school community values. I’m doubt I’m alone in seeing a connection between this decision and Moody Bible Institute’s unfortunate responses over the past few years to news reporting that is focused on them. In the “real world”, there is a dearth of skilled, principled Christian journalists who are committed to (and skilled with) Christian institutions and leaders. At the same time, there are many Christians institutions and leaders who do NOT want to be investigated and reported on. What messages is MBI sending by cutting TMS?

      Although I appreciate the role that rogue publications and social media can play in the news cycle (and in reform), a college-supported student newspaper is a critical compass and barometer for important issues. Make no mistake: in the absence of a standards-driven “free press” on campus, students and faculty WILL find something to take its place. As Ms. White suggests, that “something” likely will not follow a common code of ethics or prove as rigorous as The Moody Standard.

      I hope that student, faculty, and alumni response compels the MBI administration reconsiders to reconsider this misguided decision.

      Two questions:

      1) How much money does The Moody Standard need per school year to operate?

      2) What was MBI’s rationale (if any) for putting advertising dollars that the newspaper generates into a general fund?

      Reply

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