The kids aren’t all right: Who really killed the student free press of SMU

Letter from The Editorial Board of SMU’s The Daily Campus

It’s not often that a newspaper has the self-indulgency to be able to write about itself, but this anomaly isn’t one to celebrate.

As previously announced, the Student Media Company will be dissolving in May after nearly a century, forever altering the landscape of the free press on SMU’s campus. This outcome was, frankly, inevitable, but not because of the actions of the students involved with the media outlets run by the Student Media Company.

Students have reported from every corner of DFW, created layouts and done what was asked of them for the newspaper, the yearbook and online stories, but the adults charged with keeping us afloat let us down.

When the former executive director left abruptly in December, our interim director stepped in with a plan to save Student Media Company and the entire concept of an on-campus free press.

Many of us expressed our concerns with Student Media Company’s finances for years, but nothing was changed. This last hope was dashed as the company’s board wasn’t interested in the slightest. Instead, students received a slightly more formal and bureaucratic version of “Nope, it’s too late. Sorry.” No editors in Student Media Company had a vote on the board. Their concerns were expressed and ultimately disregarded.

So, now what? The Daily Campus, in all its iterations, has been able to remain an independent news source since 1930. Removing that independence completely disrupts the mission and purpose of a student newspaper, both in serving our campus and the greater Dallas community.

While we trust that what’s left of our newspaper will be in good hands in the journalism department, we don’t have the same faith in their bosses. The administration attempting to censor media is the entire reason the Student Media Company began, but now students may not have the opportunity to report the truth without fear of retaliation from the university.

Change is fine and growth is good, but not at the expense of our creative voices. The head of the SMU journalism department has said a print newspaper is no longer worth his department’s dollars — when in fact, the SMU Look magazine is hemorrhaging money. Rather than continuing a long history of relatively inexpensive print newspapers, the SMU Look magazine was given preference as a recruiting tool for the school. Never mind that it’s hardly sold any ads, as long as we can sell the “experience” to prospective students, and never mind that students reporting news have been busting their asses for decades to produce a weekly paper that has won dozens of awards, including seven just last month.

That print is dead. In addition to the loss of our print newspaper, the Rotunda yearbook, awarded yearly for excellence in design, photography and copy writing may not have a future. The journalism department has not claimed responsibility for the publication that takes students and faculty alike on trips down memory lane. The yearbook is the reason Student Media Company has been able to stay afloat financially. How does the journalism department expect to take on expensive ventures like SMU Look without such a successful book? After 103 years of the Rotunda, do we not owe it to its long history to at least try to continue it?

As the editorial team for the final print season of the SMU Campus Weekly, we are sad to see our paper drift off into the digital age. We wish all the very best to the new editors who will lead our journalists into the next year of reporting online only with The Daily Campus and hold a tepid hope for the future of the free press on SMU’s campus.

SMU student newspaper editors and reporters ca. 1950s.