The Role of a Student Newspaper
One mid-century assessment of college newspapers expressed the notion that each of five campus groups had its own perception of the role of a college paper:
- Administrators often viewed the paper as an official publication of the university that, as such, might involve the college in outside entanglements.
- General faculty viewed the campus paper as offering a medium for publicity.
- Students believed the paper to be the representation of their views.
- Journalism students thought of the college newspaper as part and parcel their own creation.
- Finally, journalism instructors saw the newspaper as a hands-on laboratory.
The University Weekly and its successor, The Arkansas Traveler, fulfilled each of these roles to some degree but leaned toward representing the students’ interests. The paper was started by students and financed from their own pockets for most of the twentieth century, either by subscription or by publication fee. The staff members were beholden to the university administration for office space and some level of official permission to distribute the paper on campus. However, the natural power dynamic between administrator and student forced most editors to weigh their words when pitted between student and administration. On more than one occasion, the student editors who threw caution to the wind faced the possibility of suspension or expulsion.
Early in the newspaper’s history, members of the faculty at Arkansas could readily seek publication of stories favorable to their research, either by submitting stories themselves or conferring with a student writer. During the first two decades, the newspaper rarely ran into problems finding space for stories. From the late 1930s to the early 1970s, editorial space in the paper became tighter as the number of advertisements continued to grow but the paper’s size did not. Professors appeared to have had more difficulty finding publicity during this period but no more or less so than students trying to publicize upcoming campus events.
As for journalism students, no official journalism department existed until the 1920s, and the editor and business manager were popularly elected until the mid-1940s. Between the early 1920s and 1940s, though, the editor was required to be a journalism major and to have worked for The Traveler for at least a year prior to applying for the editorship. Journalism students could usually work on the paper if they were willing to work for whomever was editor at the time. Many of the staffs included former rivals for the editorships.
The Traveler’s independence meant that its relationship with the journalism department varied over the course of its history. The journalism department was never in charge of the paper, although it maintained a symbiotic and collaborative relationship with the student newspaper through most of the last seventy-five years. After the College of Arts and Sciences approved a major in journalism for the 1929-30 school year, students who enrolled in the department’s courses contributed work toward publication of The Traveler. However, the submitted material was used at the discretion of The Traveler staff, which maintained its editorial independence despite occasional attempts by the department to insinuate control and at least a couple of efforts to place the student paper completely under the control of the journalism department.
Ernest J. Hopkins. “Educational Approach to Supervision.” NCCPA Review 2:5 (January 1957)