Given its history on the campus of Seattle Central Community College, the New City Collegian isn't just a campus newspaper. It's an act of defiance.
YOU wouldn’t think that publishing a little scrap of a newspaper would make the news. But that’s just what happened last week.
A handful of outlaw student journalists at Seattle Central Community College printed a thousand copies of the New City Collegian and handed it out to hundreds on the campus. Some of the hoopla was about defying the odds: those hopeful idealists, putting out a newspaper, of all things.
I can’t tell you how many folks look me in the eye and tell me newspapers are dead. Moreover, they say, journalism as a career choice makes about as much sense as opening a bookstore. I used to teach journalism at Seattle Central, so I have a lot to say on the matter. More people are reading more journalism than ever before. People want to be more informed, not less.
Would you conclude that, because bookstores are going out of business, people don’t read books anymore? Sales of digital books now exceed sales of printed books.
America still likes to read novels and the news of the day. It’s just that we’re reading a lot of stuff on flat screens and smartphones instead of newsprint.
The new student paper was printed with the support of Cupcake Royale, not a dime of school money, and students plan to support it through advertising in the fall.
Our brazen student reporters made a splash because the campus is hungry for a newspaper. Most campuses still have newspapers. For that matter, so do most high schools. Seattle Central used to have one too, The City Collegian, which had been the independent student newspaper for 42 years until administrators shut it down in June 2008.
You wouldn’t believe the news the students at The (old) City Collegian reported. They reported that the administration induced the student council to spend $465,000 of student money to buy furniture.
Another story revealed that the administration didn’t notify anyone that sex offenders were enrolled in classes. One story reported how the security manager was falsifying crime data reports to the U.S. Department of Education.
The students reported all kinds of stories — investigative news and powerful human stories and bold editorials — and won awards.
These days, with all the pitiful talk about the state budget crisis, people assume The City Collegian was shut down to save taxpayer money. But it happened in June 2008, before the stock market crashed. Also, the student paper was funded by student fees, not taxpayer money.
The plain truth is that the paper, which had published continually since 1966, was axed because administrators couldn’t stomach the campus community reading the news about themselves.
They weren’t delicate about it, either. Administrators changed the locks to the newsroom, pitched most of its contents in the Dumpster, yanked the funding and expunged the journalism class.
It’s a troubling trend on our campus.
Even now, the administration is hard at work restricting First Amendment expression. After a first attempt to sequester First Amendment activity into tiny free-speech zones blew up in their faces, administrators have quietly convened a task force to pursue that and other limitations — capping free speech at one sign per person, for example.
Last week, the student journalists symbolically launched their paper at 10 p.m. on the south plaza. In a few weeks, by fiat of our board of trustees, such an exercise of First Amendment rights will no longer be allowed.
The board recently voted to ban demonstrations after 10 p.m. Most people assume that would apply to just raucous protests, but it also would apply to a candlelight vigil, Shakespeare on the south plaza or mothers of soldiers reminding us of the cost of the war in Afghanistan. First Amendment rights are taking hits here.
That’s why New City Collegian isn’t just a campus newspaper. It’s an act of defiance.
Jeb Wyman has taught writing at Seattle Central since 1994 and was faculty adviser to The City Collegian from 2003 to 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.