Guest Column: Budget Report shows vitality of student journalism

If you browse the website of the Student Press Law Center you will see that student journalism is under attack, sometimes for frivolous reasons, sometimes for substantive ones. High school students who write articles warning of the dangers of certain kinds of drug use have their newspapers censored, and college students who challenge the authority of administrators end up in court. The problem when authority attempts to quash grassroots voices – presumably for their own good – is that when one starts to slide down a slippery slope, one inevitably ends up in muddy waters.
If one accepts the premise that the First Amendment protects all kinds of speech, even speech one finds distasteful, one may avoid the muddy waters, and some measure of clarity may be found.
And a bit of clarity is what I hope you will find in this edition of the Exponent, both in the special printed section and in the accompanying Web Exclusives that can be found on the newspaper’s website.
As the instructor of Media Studies 3730, Project Writing and Reporting, I challenged my students to pursue a budget topic in depth, knowing that the university’s structural deficit, combined with the draconian cuts looming from Madison, would be a topic of interest throughout the semester and beyond.
One could argue that the State of Wisconsin is choosing to balance its budget by gutting services such as health care and higher education, and that those choices cast the state, and its voters, in a negative light. One could further argue that decisions made at the local level – beefing up administration while cutting academics or sports, for example – cast the university in a negative light. The job of the Exponent, however, is not to serve as an apologist for the state, the voters or the university. The job of the Exponent is to serve as a voice for students and to allow those students who choose the Exponent as their instrument the opportunity to acquaint readers with the student perspective and, in an ideal outcome, to educate those readers.
When was the last time you saw a well-researched article on the impact of the budget cuts on this university’s Distance Learning Center? Or one about PACCE? Or the athletics department? Or a budget forum hosted by the chancellor? Or even an in-depth article on the state budget cut that explains what it means to this university in particular?
Here. In the Exponent.
It’s one thing to see a figure like $300 million. It’s quite another to see what $200,000 here or $120,000 there does to people you know. The Exponent has been bringing those effects to your attention all semester, and the students in Project Writing and Reporting, along with the Exponent, have pulled together 16 in-depth articles that will help those of us in the university, and our friends in the surrounding community, understand what it means to absorb the cuts that are coming.
You will not see this kind of reporting on UW-Platteville anywhere else. In fact, you are unlikely to see journalism that strives to be as factual and unbiased as the journalism that is being presented to you today in this newspaper and on the Web. While it doesn’t mean much in the context of a skewed universe that embraces opinionated juggernauts like Fox “News,” it means a lot to me, and I hope it means a lot to you. I also hope that today’s effort demonstrates to the readers of the Exponent why student journalism, warts and all, should be cherished and protected.

Do not enjoy.

Arthur Ranney, Ph.D., is a former journalist, chair of the Dept. of Media Studies and adviser to the Exponent.