Imagine, if you will, that The Signal was not allowed to report on Sodexho’s Carte Blanche switch. Or on the salaries of top College employees like that of President R. Barbara Gitenstein. Or, worst of all, on stories that appear in Cop Shop (oh no, not Cop Shop).
Instead, College officials tell the Journalism department that students must confine investigative reporting pieces to issues going on in Ewing Township. They cannot investigate on-campus issues.
Who would care about what the Signal publishes then? The Signal is not here to serve residents of Ewing Township. It is here to serve the students of The College of New Jersey – to bring their campus issues to light, to represent them when activities on campus become unfair.
Administrators at Rutgers University, however, do not believe in this purpose of a student newspaper. A few weeks ago, officials declared that on-campus topics would be off-limits to the university’s investigative reporting class. Instead, they must look off-campus for stories.
The controversy started when Fraidy Reiss, a junior journalism major at the university, wrote a piece on preferential treatment of athletes at the university. Nick Sevilis, editor in chief of The Daily Targum, the Rutgers student newspaper, refused to run it because it “showed the writer’s bias.” Guy Baehr, Reiss’ professor and a veteran reporter for The Star-Ledger, gave her an A on the piece.
Rutgers seems to be afraid of potential embarrassment that such investigative pieces like Reiss’ could bring to the university.
And with good reason, as Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun points out. This restriction prevents student reporters from investigating how the state’s largest university spends more than $1.2 billion annually – most of which is public money, state aid or tuition (which has been rising at a rate of 8 to 9 percent per year). No wonder Rutgers wants to keep those young, hungry journalists hushed.
But what is that teaching student journalists? Yes, it provides them with a valuable lesson that throughout their careers, they are going to have to struggle with sources who do not want to disseminate information. But it prevents them from mining their community for stories in the name of public service, and that is what journalism is all about.