by Alan Blanchard

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

—First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

I was a student journalist long before the idea of becoming a professional one ever entered my frontal lobe. My first exposure to student journalism was in 1973 — my senior year of high school in southeastern Indiana.

Broadcast and print news stories announced the impending end of the Vietnam War, the burglary of the Democratic offices in the Watergate Hotel, and then President Richard M. Nixon’s re-election and subsequent resigning and leaving office in disgrace. 

Against this backdrop, I was invited to join the student newspaper. The faculty adviser to the newspaper was friendly enough but didn’t do much advising, which was fine with me since I knew nothing about journalism, newspapers, or news.

I’m not sure why, but part way through the semester I wrote a fiction piece for the newspaper about the troubles and travails faced by President Nixon. 

With no constraints on genre or word length, I believe my fiction piece was 1,500 words;  thankfully, a copy didn’t survive in my possession since high school. In hindsight, I think I would have been better served if my adviser had encouraged me to write a non-fiction news story, interviewing local political leaders of both persuasions on their thoughts about the president’s situation, thereby gently steering me away from creating weak fiction and hogging so much of the space in that tiny school newspaper (mimeographed on white typing paper if memory serves).

While some purists might have found or still find fault with a high school newspaper adviser doing any advising or steering of student journalists back then or today, I think advising can be a mutually beneficial experience for student and faculty adviser alike.

For the past 22 years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a newspaper faculty adviser at two private liberal arts universities, most recently at Taylor University, advising The Echo. 

A year ago, in May of 2018, some discussion took place on Taylor’s campus that focused on the question of whether student newspapers at private colleges and universities, such as Taylor University, should enjoy the same press freedoms as their counterparts at public universities in Indiana and across the nation.

At public universities, most student newspaper-adviser relationships work in this way: students make all of the decisions and the adviser offers advice when students ask for it. But private universities do not operate under the same constraints as publics do.

Then you have the University of Missouri at Columbia, a prestigious public university with a national reputation for training student journalists. At Mizzou’s student newspaper, each of the editor positions at the student newspaper are filled by former professional editors who supervise and edit the students who fill the reporter roles. One could argue that this model is superior since students are learning from former metro daily newspaper editors. But some, no doubt, would fault such a model since students are not serving as the editors.

Adviser oversight at private colleges and universities falls generally into three models: some provide full press freedom to students; others provide near-full freedoms; then some require full-on prior review up to and including removal of certain stories before publication. 

The best colleges and universities (private or public) experienced advisers who have the ability to guide and lead students in best practices journalism

Echo students at Taylor University have great latitude in selecting, assigning and writing stories they believe are important to share with the Taylor community, within generally accepted journalistic best practices. While the student newspaper’s print edition never has had prior review, its relatively new online presence was subject to prior review until May 2019, when then-President Lowell P. Haines ceased that practice.

The best publishers I worked for during my newspaper editor career gave me great latitude, but even the best bosses reserved the right to say no to some stories being pursued, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not for objective reasons. It was not until I owned my own newspaper that I experienced full press freedom. But with freedom of the press comes great responsibility to report the news accurately, fairly and responsibly.

Best practices in student and professional journalism can mean walking the extra mile to talk to one more source, seeking attorney review of story to ensure it contains no libel and delaying a story for either of these reasons. Delay is not a word I enjoyed hearing as a young reporter, but it was one I grew to appreciate and respect as I grew into a seasoned editor.

Regardless of how much press freedom student journalists have while in college, they may find their collegiate freedom was greater than the press freedoms, with limitations, they experience as professional reporters and editors. But it may take 10 years to realize this; it took me longer than that.

Alan D. Blanchard, Ph.D., associate professor of journalism in and co-chair of the Communication Department at Taylor University, advises The Echo student newspaper. He has more than 25 years’ experience as a newspaper editor and publisher, newspaper – alan.blanchard@taylor.edu


Introduction to Series: When Freedom is not Free: Viewpoints on Student Media Controls on Christian CampusesMichael Longinow
With press freedom comes much responsibilityAlan Blanchard
Courageous Advising: A Free Press is Challenging but Do-ableCassidy Grom
Nationally Accredited Journalism Programs and Faith-Based Mission: Not Antithetical, Much Needed in Today’s Media WorldDoug Mendenhall
True liberty means press liberty: Let the students reportPaul Glader
Christian Journalism & Privacy LawsTerry Mattingly
Liberty & JournalismMichael Longinow
Mr. Falwell’s FollyTimothy C. Morgan
Liberty CensorshipDonna J. Downs
Inside Liberty’s Culture of Learning: An Opportunity to ExcelAmanda Sullivan Sokolik