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Friday, May 25, 2018

Opinion

Staff editorial: If you want independent journalism at UH, show it


The Cougar staff pictured with their print edition that needs more attention from students. Thom Dwyer/The Cougar

Students do not have a choice when it comes to coverage; we face the responsibility of picking up the slack of apathetic national outlets. If we don’t write about the impact of Hurricane Harvey or homelessness on students, it will have never existed to the generations after us.

The news of Southern Methodist University’s impending May shutdown prompted the Independent Florida Alligator of the University of Florida to create #SaveStudentNewsrooms, expected to go viral April 25 to show support and emphasize the essential nature of a student-run newsroom — an institution frequently under fire.

The Daily Campus has served SMU for almost a century, but the decision by administration to dissolve the paper, instead of save it, in the wake of financial strain means only the website of the student-led publishing company will remain.

Not every story covered by a student newsroom is nationally relevant. Many have no impact beyond campus walls. But that doesn’t make them any less important.

The local ties student journalists have to their community gives us the unique opportunity to truthfully present the narratives that hit close to home, such as the cataclysmic damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey, gentrification in traditional low-income neighborhoods and the important role Houston plays in the future — of space, track & field, energy and beyond.

In the past year, editors at The Cougar have published coverage ranging from the importance of acknowledging police brutality, to a post-Harvey plea for Houstonians to get out to the ballgame, to an investigation into safety hazards at one of the University’s most popular off-campus apartments.

In the eight months since Harvey devastated the Texas coastline, The Cougar has published nearly 50 articles on the severity, impact and aftermath of the storm. Nineteen of which went online as it continued to loom over the city, and editors worked from all corners of the state to ensure prompt, accurate coverage of the UH community — the kind only a student newspaper can manage.

The Cougar has served UH for the same number of years as the Daily Campus, and amid the decline of print journalism entirely, we run the ever-increasing risk of suffering the same fate.

The staff of the Cougar are akin to the editorial board of the Daily Campus in nearly every way. We spend our nights, weekends and between-class breaks laboring over the stories we feel are going unheard, the heroes unsung and justice unserved. Ask any student journalist, whether they be from UH’s Center for Student Media or elsewhere, why they take part in their campus newspaper, and they’ll tell you the same thing: It’s out of a sense of duty to the truth, and duty to their community.

But a student-run newsroom cannot function on the passion of its journalists, alone. We need the support of our readers, and that support is earned. We need you to pick up the paper, and if you don’t want to, please take the time to tell us why.

While The Cougar has no plans to close its doors anytime soon, the budgetary and administrative pitfalls that led to the demise of SMU’s paper loom over every college newspaper — even yours. Whether or not you’re a habitual reader of the newspaper, the editors and reporters who make up the Cougar go to print each week solely out of a sense of duty to students like you.

So, pick up the paper whenever you can, and we’ll continue spending sleepless nights at our cubicles, trudging to campus amid inclement weather closures and searching tirelessly for the stories we believe embody and serve the UH community — loving every minute of it.

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