Voice of America this week published a new piece about the plight of college newspapers and other student-run news organizations, a topic that’s been in the press quite a bit in the past year.
The VOA story stems from a report that I helped write as chairman of the First Amendment Advocacy Program of College Media Association: a role separate from my work as the UVM student media adviser. Other contributors to the report include writers and editors at the American Association of University Professors, the Student Press Law Center and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
It’s hard to say whether the number of cases of censorship by college officials is increasing, but, in the modern media environment, our awareness of threats to students’ free expression is.
College officials sometimes demand to see stories before they go to print or cut funding entirely if student journalists write articles that offend their sensibilities. This happens with stories ranging from the obviously vital—investigations into the actions of misbehaving administrators, say—to the seemingly trivial, such as the best places to hook up on campus. Student government organizations sometimes punish the press, too.
In many cases, perpetrators of this censorship claim other motives for their actions and say that censorship isn’t taking place at all. They might say that they want to shutter a newsroom because of concerns about a newspaper’s finances or that the removal of the newspaper’s adviser is a result of larger university cutbacks. Sometimes they say that an adviser has been removed from her position for other work-related reasons that they can’t discuss because of privacy rules around personnel issues. Sometimes, definitely, censorship has nothing to do with it, but our research shows that, too often, it does.
We’re blessed at the University of Vermont, where college officials value the student press in a way that not every higher ed administrator does. If The Vermont Cynic publishes something that offends a reader, then UVM officials point that reader to the student editors. This is so automatic that, even as the newspaper’s adviser, I usually don’t hear about these complaints until well after students have responded to the offended party, whether it be a local business owner or government official.
Not every college media organization is so fortunate. Our hope is that the report might shine a light on these problems and provide guidance for how to move forward.
At the end of the era in which journalists still pasted their stories onto a physical page to be sent to the printer, few non-students were as essential to The Vermont Cynic as Sue Ball.
Ball was a “Cynic legend” who stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning waiting for the University of Vermont’s student journalists to finish their stories and turn in their photos, said Pat Brown, UVM’s director of Student Life.
“Sue would sit behind this wall of a machine that would amaze current students,” Brown said. “It was massive, with a simple keyboard and a driver the size of an old VW bug. She typed and coded stories, then passed along neat columns of student inspirations to inform the campus.”
Brown said he would encourage Ball to head home if students missed their deadlines, but she refused to do it, saying that she couldn’t let the students down.
“Sue was a trooper, hanging out in Billings with her dog Damien, waiting for the ever-tardy, yet intensely driven story. She’d also help students format their resumes and create a poster or two for student organizations.”
Ball died July 8 at the age of 72, according to the Burlington Free Press. She owned the business Bold Face Type & Design and started the Burlington magazine LOOKOUT, which continued until the late 1980s.
Read her obituary here.
The first UVMtv screen flickered into existence in the late 1990s, a prehistoric era in which students lacked the most basic video necessities. There was no Netflix. No YouTube. Video streaming was the stuff of science fiction. The mere act of watching a second-run movie required a perilous journey through snow and ice to Blockbuster Video, where students could pool their money to rent a $3 film, provided they returned it the next day—lest they face dreaded late fees with each passing day.
UVMtv saved the day, delivering a constant stream of nearly new movies to every television in the residence halls. Over time, the students who chose these movies began making their own shows: news, comedies, dating shows and some pretty psychedelic fare, too.
A new UVMtv mini-doc sheds light on the struggles those students have faced in the years since. UVMtv’s current technical director, Carolyn Pedro, produced the 11-minute film after interviewing a decade’s worth of UVMtv members. The result is a trip through those years when UVMtv sought a studio home on the University of Vermont campus—bouncing from Billings Hall to Coolidge Hall to the Davis Center and more—but mostly Pedro tells a story of how students found their college family on both sides of the camera.
Pedro shared what is was like making the documentary:
I wanted to make the video because I saw how much enthusiasm the members have for the club and the hard work that gets put into it. Unfortunately, the club doesn’t get the recognition it deserves and I wanted to highlight those issues with a documentary.
Ultimately I wanted to represent UVMtv in a way that shows how much passion is devoted to it by current and previous members. I want those who watch it to realize the dedication its members have to the organization and maybe even get some more recognition for the organization.
I learned how strong its community is. In some ways the organization has really impacted everyone who has been involved. In a short few weeks of starting this documentary I received an overwhelming amount of support from previous and current members. Regardless how many conflicts the club has faced the enthusiasm and devotion for the club has always been alive since the beginning. Everyone is so supportive of what the club has and can accomplish.
Things just keep getting better for UVMtv.
Just before spring break, club leaders found out that they’d need to vacate their studio under Ira Allen Chapel to make way for UVM computer techs, who themselves had been booted from their old space as UVM shuffles a number of offices.
Packing everything up wasn’t necessarily easy, but UVMtv quickly relocated to a bright new space in the basement of Wright Hall, one of the residence halls on Redstone Campus.
For UVMtv, the relocation comes on the heels of signing a deal with Burlington Telecom to create two channels available to Burlington residents: channel 300 for standard-def reception and channel 313 for high-def.
Anyone with a Burlington Telecom subscription will be able to watch 24 hours a day. The newest shows will air in the evenings, said Melisa Rayvid, UVMtv’s station manager.
For nearly a decade, UVMtv had streamed up to four channels into UVM’s residence halls. However, when the department of residential life yanked cable from the res halls in 2013, UVMtv went web-only. Several shows continue to flourish online, but the cable deal should mean wider viewership, Rayvid said.
The partnership is a good deal for Burlington Telecom, too, said Abbie Tykocki, the organization’s director of marketing and public relations.
“Burlington Telecom has a lot of off-campus student customers,” Tykocki said. “UVMtv was eager to get back on the air, and BT was excited to be able to help. It’s a really cool way for BT to say thank you to our student customers.
“They support us, and we’re thrilled to help give something back to the community.”
With the switch to the new studio, UVMtv had to take the new channels offline during spring break as UVM re-wired the space, but Rayvid said channels 300 and 313 will be back on the air next week—right after UVM’s spring break.
Burlington, Vermont, TV station WCAX recently interviewed the new Vermont Cynic leadership team—editor-in-chief Hannah Kearns and managing editor Jacob Holzman—about the Cynic’s top stories of 2015.
This local news coverage comes at the end of an exciting year for the Cynic. In October, Associated Collegiate Press recognized a Cynic investigation into working conditions at University of Vermont dining areas as the second-best college newspaper story in the country.
“There is an immense amount of value in thorough, long-term digging and investigative journalism,” said Holzman, who led the investigative team that produced the award-winning story. “From what we’ve heard from the employees we spoke with during the initial investigation, employees are now better off because of these changes.”
Stories featured by WCAX include an enterprise story about a UVM employee who has accused the university of paying her less than her male counterparts. That story, written by reporter Kelsey Neubauer, received local media attention shortly after it was published in December.
Dr. Alfred Snider, whom most of us at WRUV-FM knew better as Tuna, passed away early today.
Snider served as WRUV adviser from 1986 to 2000, and he was a legend of a man, both in the station and in the world of UVM debate. If you want to get a sense of how important he was to so many people, you can already find a hundred expressions of love and remorse on national debate forums and on Facebook.
The National Speech & Debate Association posted this today: “It is impossible to estimate the number of people who have learned from Dr. Snider as a coach, teacher, or colleague, either in person or from one of his many books, podcasts, television appearances, radio shows, and websites. A lifelong learner and teacher, Dr. Snider was also one of the community’s greatest servants.”
Dr. Snider lives on as Dr. Tuna. You can listen to an archived show from 1984—the one year anniversary of his first time on WRUV—or this show in which he sat in on the radio program Trenchtown Rock, which he says “had been a foundation of the local reggae scene in every sense of the word.”
About the 1984 show, Tuna wrote: “After one year on the radio I did a little celebration. I played some stuff from the past and used my penchant for self-indulgence to the max. Lots of classic reggae music. Princess Sensee is there, Blue Riddim Band plays “Nancy Reagan,” and a lot more little bits of memory and music.”
He concluded: “Enjoy. This was a long time ago.”
But listen to it today, and you hear the great DJ who meant so much to so many.