The job of a college media adviser is sticky. Without any control over content or editorial decisions, a media adviser walks a fine line, trying to guide students to practice solid journalism without “taking over” or dominating decisions.
I bite my nails on a regular basis, I hold my tongue as much as I can, and I try to keep my facial expressions at bay while pointing out the pros and cons of the decisions and proposals my students make. In the end, though, I trust them to go with their instincts and gut feelings. It is after all, their paper, not mine.
This weekend three members of my newspaper staff trusted their gut and ventured on a 6-hour trip to DesMoines, Iowa. It was not a typical assignment since most of our stories are based on our campus in St. Louis and rarely lead them on a wild goose chase to neighboring cities. However, our editor-in-chief made the decision to follow the wrestling team to the national championship tournaments.
The decision was not made lightly, especially since it was a trip where they had to leave at 2 a.m., cover all financial expenses out of pocket and spend part of the day catching up on sleep in a run-down hotel. There was a possibility that none of the wrestlers from our school would even make it to the final round, but they chose to take that chance and make the trip anyway for the sake of quality journalism.
I won’t lie – I had concerns. I was concerned for their safety on the road, the liability of a trip that was not sanctioned by the school – and insurance coverage, and the access they would have at the event given that the wrestling team is facing immense controversy in its last year due to budget cuts.
After countless text messages throughout the day to me and fellow staffers, 350 photos and 80 recorded video segments, my students made it back to St. Louis to break the news of a 1st place win by one of our school wrestlers.
They were exhausted and excited at the same time – the trip was clearly worth the trouble. For me, it was an eye-opening moment as a college media adviser. Even though I had concerns, I was not “right” and I, rightfully so, wasn’t in charge.
The day’s events confirmed how important it is for me to stay away from that line of intrusion – to maintain a clear distance with a guiding hand. I was proud of their efforts and what they accomplishd, and more so, thankful that I didn’t stand in their way to follow their instincts.
I have many sleepless nights concerned about their choices, safety and guidance. But, journalism is about freedom – not about sleep.
In the midst of the trip, my editor-in-chief reaffirmed this notion when he sent me a text message that read, “Journalists never sleep, Shannon.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
– Shannon Philpott
Blog Entry: Feb. 28, 2010
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