As I am writing this, graduation is just around the corner.
For me the journey is bittersweet. I came to Delta State in the fall of 2012 as a journalism major, and I am sad to know that I will be one of the last students to benefit from studying journalism at Delta State.
On April 16, the Mississippi IHL finalized the elimination of five academic programs at Delta State, including the elimination of the journalism program, in a unanimous vote. I can’t say I am entirely surprised as President LaForge said in a faculty forum back in November 2014 that these cuts were a “fait accompli”—a done deal.
But I had hoped the board in charge of overseeing higher education in Mississippi would see the error of their ways and the precedent they were setting for other schools to follow.
The argument in support of cutting this iconic program was enrollment. However, the other two state-funded universities with a journalism program in Mississippi are Southern Miss and Ole Miss, so mathematically speaking, Delta State will never be able to match those enrollment figures because our total student population is a fraction of those schools. In fact, the student body population at both of these universities is bigger than the entire town of Cleveland.
And the argument for cutting the student newspaper’s printing budget, aside from it being “too expensive,” is the assumption students don’t read it.
Now, no one actually polled the journalists about this, nor was any formal survey ever conducted to indicate students’ preference. And nothing is more discouraging to be the editor of the newspaper and read your university president quoted in an article from a national organization, the Student Press Law Center, saying, “The students really don’t read the print paper. They’ll read it online, maybe.”
President LaForge admitted he used to be a former writer for the DSU newspaper, so I expected he would value a print newspaper more than a digital one, knowing the importance of being able to see your name in print and saving the clippings for a portfolio. I also hoped he would understand the amount of training it takes to run a newspaper because it’s not just your basic student activity.
When I enrolled at Delta State, I was unsure of what to expect. I knew I was coming to a small school in a small town. I learned more about myself in the three years I have spent at Delta State than I ever thought I would. But never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed I’d lead the last issues of the university’s print newspaper and graduate from a now-eliminated program.
I became editor of The Delta Statement following the 2013 spring semester and spent much of my summer archiving and sorting through past issues. What I found was astonishing. It was like I came across a historical timeline of Delta State University. Every major accomplishment, every notable figure, every milestone was all documented in the student newspaper.
You can’t cut out articles or photos in an online-only newspaper. You can’t even guarantee the article you read online will last because digital archives are not permanent like a newspaper’s archives. I found that out the hard way when I tried googling the links to articles I had written for The Bolivar Commercial last summer. If I hadn’t kept a copy of each printed paper with my byline, all those weeks of hard work would have been gone forever as the links are no longer available.
It should also be noted that just because something is available to read on the Internet, it doesn’t mean it costs nothing to upload. We actually pay for the server to host The Delta Statement’s award-winning website, and with the reductions to The Delta Statement’s budget, those stories will disappear too, if the students don’t have the money to continue paying the fee for the host server.
Sad to think memories can disappear like that, right?
It is, especially when you have spent three years working on the staff and made so many memories. I would not have come to Delta State had it not been for its iconic journalism program, and I was blessed with a unique opportunity to be the editor-in-chief for two years—something that has never happened before. I have always wondered why I was the only student to serve as editor-in-chief for more than one year.
If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said because I was the only one crazy enough. It takes an extreme amount of time, effort, energy and journalistic knowledge to manage a newspaper.
As I gained more experience, I realized the true reason is that it takes courage. As a newspaper editor, you are simultaneously everyone’s favorite and most-hated person, but you have to have enough confidence in yourself to make tough choices. You have to go after the stories that are critical and have the guts to publish them. You can’t be afraid of what other people will think of you, or worry if you’re going to upset someone by publishing a critical piece. It’s your job to deliver the news, and people rely on you for that.
I spent two years working to maintain this prize-winning publication and achieved many firsts for the journalism program and The Delta Statement. As a graduating senior, my only wish was to see it continue to thrive.
I am not sure what will happen to The Delta Statement now that the journalism program has been eliminated. It is heartbreaking to know all the opportunities I received as a result of my studying journalism at Delta State and working on The Delta Statement staff will not be available to other deserving students. And without the knowledge of the industry, how will the paper survive?
In classes, we study from textbooks to gain knowledge about our chosen field of study. These books encompass almost everything from important figures and dates to miscellaneous facts to prepare us for life outside of college. We take quizzes and write reports to demonstrate we have understood the material.
But how are we to learn about our university? What documents the campus life for years to come? The student newspaper serves as the textbook for student life on a university. It documents everything important that happens. Taking that away is like taking the culture away.
With that said, I still don’t believe journalism is a dying industry. It may evolve, but it will never disappear completely. I would love to see the journalism program restored at DSU, and I hope that will become a reality soon. It takes a certain kind of personality to be a journalist. Part of my role as editor was to advise new staff members, so I will take this time to offer a few more words of wisdom. To my successors at The Delta Statement: Follow your heart, and trust in your capabilities.
And to Delta State, thank you for giving me the opportunity to showcase what I am capable of. It’s been a long journey, but I enjoyed the ride.