Erica McMillan

North Wind Paper Evokes Essence of Journalism

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Student Journalists Get To The Core of Journalism's Role In Society

untitled-shoot-9006-EditMarquette Michigan – History has shown us that corruption in positions of power and privilege are as natural to human nature as sleeping and eating. Civilizations have developed their own ways of dealing with this issue; ours in the U.S. being a system of checks and balances.

In fact, our forefathers took this issue so seriously that they bestowed certain guarantees to us as citizens that would secure our rights to seek truth and justice, to express opposing opinions, and question the leaders of our governmental bodies and public institutions. It’s called the Bill of Rights and it’s no coincidence that the very first amendment deals with freedoms of speech, the press, religion, and the right to petition our government.

There’s been a lot of noise in the past year over questions raised, by one small newspaper here in our own community of Marquette, MI, which has ultimately put these 1st amendment rights to the test. The inquiries made by student journalists at the North Wind newspaper were never meant to do anything more than explore relevant campus issues with daily impacts on the lives and pocketbooks of NMU students.

Says 2014/15 North Wind Editor in Chief, Emma Finkbiener, “The questions that came up and became these huge issues came from outside as anonymous tips and suggestions. We feel our job as journalists is to follow up on that. Sometimes we find something, sometimes we don’t.”

And so it goes in the world of journalism. One cannot refrain from asking important questions of those in positions of power, on the chance that no wrong doings exist. Despite that possibility, we must continuously reevaluate whether the policies of our government and public institutions are still serving the needs of the people for which they were meant.

2014/15 Features Editor Anthony Viola states that, “The reason I initially looked into the inner workings of the university in the first place was to understand the processes at work and know how our tuition money is being spent.” It’s the job of the journalist to raise questions relevant to their audience. Further, in pursuit of practicing journalism in it’s true essence, it is their duty to then verify the information received. This concept of investigating, questioning, and verifying has become overshadowed by a trend to simply reiterate public relation writings from corporate special interest groups so that, an overwhelming portion of the public, doesn’t realize what the essence of journalism even means anymore.untitled-shoot-5895

It stands to reason, that in order to grasp the importance of the bigger picture enfolded within these controversies on the NMU campus over the past year, one must have an understanding the essence of journalism. The American Press Institute states that the first obligation of journalism is a strong commitment to empowering its citizens with reliable, accurate information. This can only be accomplished with a professional discipline for verifying facts and maintaining transparency.

Adherence to these ideals reflects a journalist’s respect for their audience’s best interests and earns their trust. These unique characteristics are what separate journalism from other forms of communication while helping to maintain a healthy democratic society and keep our first amendment rights intact.

Transparency is a keyword here. Not merely a quaint concept, but a core democratic belief required of our governmental bodies by law. Public institutions like Northern Michigan University must also abide by these same laws of transparency. Shouldn’t the training ground for “Fearless Minds” set an example for its students and community? The reluctance of NMU’s administrative bodies to provide the requested information by North Wind student journalists and the ensuing ousting of North Wind faculty Advisor, Cheryl Reed, only fuels perceptions that NMU has something to hide. It’s the fearful minds who refuse accountability for their actions.

Institutes of higher learning in the U.S. should be proud to support the opportunities that a student-led media provides for their students to explore and question the world around them. 2014/15 North Wind managing editor, Michael Williams explains his perspective, “The paper has never been pushing for scandal. College is a microcosm of the larger world and is exactly the best place to practice looking into possible abuses of authority. Its role within the university community is exactly what it should be for a community paper or national paper: giving people the resources to question their authorities if they need to be questioned.”

The journalistic traits of curiosity, questioning, and verification that turned up the heat on the North Wind journalists are some of the very same traits admired in many of the greatest scientific minds of our civilization. Nobody ever won a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize by not caring, looking away, or accepting everything around them at face value. Fearless minds take bold steps towards finding answers and don’t allow themselves to be paralyzed by the ever lurking possibility of making a mistake along the way. Often times mistakes lead to our most important lessons and breakthroughs and isn’t that a big part of what students are paying to get from their education?

Like other North Wind staff members, Viola admits that they have made some mistakes in the past year and shares his feelings about how the on-campus controversies have affected him saying, “The experiences over the past 2 semesters have been an amazing learning ground. This is where the real education happened for me.” The struggles encountered along the way have only fueled his excitement about a career in journalism.

While many Americans are mired in apathy, overwhelmed by the vast amounts of issues to be addressed in the world, consider the sense of empowerment that journalism has had on Williams, in a short amount of time, “I’ve never had so much learning packed into 3 months! Journalism feels a lot more powerful for me. No one paid attention before we began asking questions and taking action to verify information. It was by exercising our 1st Amendment rights and practicing real journalism that others began to take notice.” The inspired students all point to their advisor Cheryl Reed with gratitude for the support, resources, and real world newsroom perspective she has shared with them from outside the small U.P. communities.

untitled-shoot-8915-EditDespite the adversities North Wind staff has tangled with this past year and the issues yet to be decided in court by the pending lawsuit filed by Reed and Williams, of 1st amendment infringements by the North Wind’s Board of Directors, the staff remains hopeful about the future of the student newspaper. Upcoming 2015/16 editor-in-chief, Ray Bressette, remains optimistic saying, “We want to continue with the foundation for investigative reporting we’ve established this past year while also showcasing the good things happening on campus.”

Though recent controversies on NMU’s campus may seem tiring to many, they shouldn’t be taken lightly as they are incredibly important to protecting our democracy and 1st amendment rights. Time and time again, journalists are the people to reveal activities damaging to our citizens by government and corporate corruptions. Each path to these discoveries began by simply asking questions. Journalists, with their probing questions and investigative ways serve as watchdogs for our communities against abuses of power.

Just imagine the very real fate of others outside our democratic society who face life in prison or losing their heads for questioning their leaders or expressing opposing opinions. While such extreme consequences may not exist in our country, without the ability to exercise our 1st Amendment rights we may as well close the doors on our remaining news agencies and get our information from the fax machines of corporate and government public relations departments, because we can trust them to always tell us the truth, right?

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