Media literacy is lacking on campus

by Tracy Lucht, Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies

Some members of the Simpson community have expressed a perception that the content of the student newspaper has become too negative or unsupportive of the institution and its students. Some of these comments have been made thoughtfully. Others have not. All are worthy of our alarm.

Journalism is a means of obtaining and disseminating information needed to judge the legitimacy of social institutions. The news media also serve as a public forum through which staff writers and others can express different perspectives on the issues facing a community. On a college campus, these functions are served by the student media, which typically report on issues such as the budget, campus organizations, crime, sports, curriculum, educational standards and administrative decisions. This ensures that students who are sacrificing to attend college can have a voice in how their institution serves them. Watchful and engaged student-journalists provide a necessary service to the community.

To those who would argue The Simpsonian should protect the Simpson “family” by failing to report any institutional or individual flaws, I would counter that healthy families talk about their problems and air their differences. Of administrators or trustees who would complain that student-journalists at their institution are asking difficult questions, I would ask: Isn’t that exactly what we should teach them to do?

Simpson’s Engaged Citizenship Curriculum is designed to encourage critical thinking and active participation in a community. An environment that discourages student expression or investigation does not foster engagement-it nurses distrust.

Journalists are not perfect; they make mistakes, and they should be held accountable for those mistakes. Readers should make their voices heard. However, there is a difference between criticizing a news organization and suggesting it serve a different function entirely. I ask that critics of The Simpsonian take into account the proper role of the student media, which is not to echo the college’s public relations department, but to provide independent-and much-needed-information about the community.

I am proud of our student-journalists. I am proud of the improvements they have made to our student media, and I am proud of their engagement as “citizens” of Simpson. I would hope others are, too.