Student journalists are crucial, now more than ever

“Journalism is supposed to represent the people, functioning as a fourth pillar of democracy,” the Columbia Spectator, the student news source at Columbia University, wrote. “As journalists ourselves, we know that when we cover and document events during times as sensitive and charged as these, we have a responsibility to capture the full story, and furthermore, to hold ourselves accountable to representing all sides and parties implicated in the story.”

On college campuses across the nation — Columbia University, New York University, University of California, Los Angeles, Yale University and more — student encampments have sprouted like defiant saplings, dotting landscapes from coast to coast with their keffiyeh-spangled makeshift sanctuaries, each one a testament to the resilience of students in the protest of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Despite gunshots being fired, revolutionary chants being exclaimed, campuses being “militarized” and disciplinary measures being enacted, students have demonstrated no signs of stopping. Parallel to the rising death tolls from Israeli air strikes in Gaza, encampments led by pro-Palestinian students on American campuses have spread across the nation.

The first recorded pro-Palestine encampment on a university campus since Oct. 7, 2023 occurred on April 18 at Columbia University where “at least 108 protesters [were] arrested and others suspended and removed from campus,” according to ABC News. Since then, student groups at other U.S. colleges and universities began to emerge. On April 21, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began an encampment, demanding the university divest from Israel. In the same month, ABC News reported, NYU, California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, Harvard University, the University of Southern California, Emerson College, Ohio State University, Virginia Tech and Columbia University followed suit.

These protests have made national headlines, but the most crucial reporting has come from student journalists: reporters, photographers and editors working around the clock and doing so in spite of threats of violence and arrest. The role of courageous student journalists in these nationwide movements is commendable, and perhaps most of all, the value of student journalism has never been clearer.

What makes the work of these student journalists feel especially valuable is the inadequacy of national coverage on this subject. Major national news sources like the New York Times and NBC News do not properly cover the campus protests, misrepresenting students’ reactions to the developing humanitarian situation in Gaza at the cost of Palestinian students, protesters and supporters.

The majority of reporting from well-known news outlets paints the concurrent events in an overwhelmingly hostile light, characterizing them as “‘dueling’ protests that ‘erupted’ and ‘roiled’ the school, creating a stark division between Arab and Muslim students and their Jewish peers,” according to the Columbia Spectator.

Brushing over the nuances of these college demonstrations feeds fear and polarization. It gives others the confidence to spread misinformation and prejudices against Arab Muslims, and to accuse students of being antisemitic for speaking up against injustice. It disregards the differences of opinion among Jewish individuals over Israel’s status in the Palestinian territories. It assumes that every Jewish person supports what the state of Israel does. It exploits marginalized groups — who are already underrepresented in the media — in an oversaturated and disgustingly sloppy manner. This is where student journalists necessarily step in. 

Due to the waning popularity of print media, numerous student news organizations have turned to social media to engage with their peers and deliver consistent updates on protests and demonstrations.

On May 1, journalists from UCLA’s Daily Bruin provided continuous coverage of campus protests and the administration’s actions for over 24 hours, incorporating impactful visuals like videos of firecrackers going off in a show of the enduring spirit of college students at the encampments. At King Crown’s Radio (WKCR), Columbia University’s radio station, student journalists maintained a constant studio presence throughout the first half of the week at the climax of the protests, with some individuals working “tirelessly for up to 30 consecutive hours,” according to the Columbia Spectator.

While major events like these are typically reported by national news sources, heightened campus security at various universities has restricted outside press access, according to the Daily Bruin. Consequently, student protesters and those involved in campus encampments have remained dependent on student-run outlets to share their narratives. And perhaps this is how it should be.

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