Western Herald – Editorial: Students work together to save hands-on media experience

Editorial: Students work together to save hands-on media experience

Imagine you are a journalist. A crazed gunman has just entered a shopping mall and begun shooting. You live a block away from the shopping mall, and your editor has assigned you to cover the story.

You’ve never interviewed anyone before. You don’t know how to deal with traumatized people or what questions to ask. The whole city of Kalamazoo is depending on you to find the truth.

You have a degree in journalism, but you’ve never had to interview anyone for an actual publication. The school you attended didn’t have a newspaper, so the only people who ever read your stories were classmates and professors.You aren’t the only one in a bind. Your newspaper is as well.

More importantly, the readers of the newspaper are left frantically attempting to find the information themselves, spreading more rumors that are untrue because they are unable and untrained to gain the facts.

Soon, many students at Western Michigan University could be in this predicament.

In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder approved a bill to cut funding to each university in Michigan by 15 percent, cutting the Western Michigan University’s budget by about $20 million.

Because of funding cuts by the state of Michigan, the Board of Trustees at WMU has been forced to cut funding in several different places. Unfortunately, the Board of Trustees decided to cut funding to two student-run media outlets that the board has funded for a number of years: the Western Herald and WIDR-FM. For the past 16 weeks, students and community members have been meeting with university faculty to come up with a survival plan when the university cuts all funding to these organizations next year.

Both businesses have long histories at WMU. The Western Herald began printing as The Western Normal Herald in 1916 and WIDR-FM launched as an AM radio station out of a trailer in Kalamazoo in 1952. Both publications have grown large audiences on and off campus and have evolved immensely with the growth of digital media.

Additionally, both publications have provided students with experiences in a wide range of subjects including print journalism and entertainment radio. What many people don’t know is that there are many other opportunities for practical experience at the Western Herald and WIDR-FM. Students can gain business and marketing experience through the finance departments of each organization, advertising experience through the advertising and underwriting departments, as well as experience in web writing, graphic design, music performance, web design and basic skills in communication, writing and management.

Without the Western Herald and WIDR-FM, opportunities to gain practical experience in the majority of these areas would be extremely limited on campus. The only other radio station on campus is WMUK, which is not run by students and is geared toward the older population of Kalamazoo. The only other newspaper for students on campus is the Black Sheep, a publication concerned more with humor and entertainment than hard news.

In an interview with Forbes.com, Dan Shawbel, author of Me 2.0, said, “part of the reason why students are struggling to find jobs is because they fail to develop their careers while in college.”

Shawbel said that most students lack the initiative to pursue internships and many schools don’t have the resources to provide students with practical experience and without it, chances of getting a job after college are extremely slim.

The difference here is that WMU contains the businesses to prepare students for careers in media and communication, but like Shawbel said, the university lacks the resources to fund it. Because the School of Communication at WMU contains over 1,600 students, it is even more important to maintain these outlets so that students can continue to gain the practical experience they have had for the majority of the university’s history.

Students not involved in media fields or the School of Communication would also be impacted if the media outlets ceased to exist. Cutting the student media would cut the primary voice of the students, not to mention the only news source on campus. Without WIDR-FM, there would be no alternative radio station in the Kalamazoo area. Without both organizations, there would be no student-run stand-alone businesses on campus.

In order to stay afloat next year once funding has been cut, students at WIDR-FM and Western Herald have teamed up with two other media organizations the Young Broadcasters of Tomorrow and Her Campus (an online magazine for women) in a campaign called Save Student Media at WMU. The group is asking students to pay a $5 student assessment fee each semester. Students currently pay $21 for the Student Assessment fee that funds the Western Student Association and Campus Activities Board, and $8 for the Office of Sustainability, making $5 a small fee by comparison.

The fee will go to a vote the last week of March during the Western Student Association elections. If passed, the funds will pay for new equipment and space allocations that will be shared by the organizations, whereas in previous years the organizations each had their own equipment.

The Save Student Media group encourages questions from the student population and will be holding forums throughout the next several weeks to answer them. Until then, questions can be directed to savestudentmedia@yahoo.com. Students are also welcome to stop in the Western Herald and WIDR offices, located in the basement of Faunce Hall if they would like to discuss the issue.

For more information about the Student Media Fee and the Save Student Media campaign, visit savestudentmedia.weebly.com.

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Erin Gignac is the editor in chief of the Western Herald. She is a senior with a double major in journalism and American public policy at Western Michigan University. Email her at herald-editor@wmich.edu

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