Debate at Missouri’s School of Journalism: Should Students Be Allowed to Work for Multiple Media Outlets?

A public debate is currently playing out among some profs, alums, and students within the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism centered on a campus press conflict of interest.

The basic question at the debate’s core: Should students be allowed to work for multiple, possibly competing campus media at the same time?

The reason behind the debate: The editor-in-chief of J-School Buzz, the hyperlocal news site covering Mizzou’s j-school, recently resigned due to a conflict of interest related to her work on The Columbia Missourian, a local daily staffed by professionals, profs, and Mizzou students.

A Missourian policy, fairly recently updated, notes, “Work for other local media by Missourian paid staff or students in staff classes (reporting, copy editing, design, photography, photo editing, graphics, etc.) is prohibited. Local media include daily and weekly newspapers and related websites in our circulation area, campus newspapers and competing broadcast outlets.

In a post about the resignation, J-School Buzz founder David Teeghman describes the policy as antiquated in a modern media environment boasting many, many outlets– especially ones that offer students the potential for picking up different skills.

In his words, “[The EIC who resigned] would have learned a few things as JSB’s editor-in-chief that she will never learn at the Missourian. She won’t learn much there about analytics, what content generates traffic and buzz, the difference between stories an audience ‘wants’ and ‘needs,’ how to run a popular news blog, how to respond to critical commenters and tweeters you know personally, how to keep a site running when it gets a rush of unexpected traffic, and so on.”

While his post makes the Missourian seem like the bad guy, the comments section clarifies and fights back on numerous points– arguing that Missourian staffers DO learn the skills Teeghman says they won’t and that STUDENTS were actually the group most in favor of enacting strict conflict of interest policies.

My take: Conflicts of interest are often unavoidable in collegemediatopia.  Some of the classics: the student working in the school’s PR office while wanting to report for the newspaper; the student joining a frat while wanting to write about an event that involves Greek organizations; the history major who finds herself editing a story involving a dust-up between history profs and the administration; and the student keeping an indy Tumblr blog while writing for the school magazine on similar issues.

Each potential conflict must be addressed on its merits.  And while most policies and idealists have their hearts in the right place, the truth is always murkier and in need of wiggle room.  Teeghman is correct in the overall implication that independent student media tend to get short shrift in conflict-of-interest fights when pitted against long-established, school-affiliated behemoths.  But in this instance, I don’t personally see any Orwellian plot to keep J-School Buzz down.  Let the debate continue!

4 Responses to “Debate at Missouri’s School of Journalism: Should Students Be Allowed to Work for Multiple Media Outlets?”
  1. You might be interested in Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein’s take, including the legal implications:

  2. shonemarsh says:

    You are providing good information i really like your blog post..great job..!!
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