CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 19: ‘Dedicated to Reporting Social Justice Happenings’

In a recent farewell column published on Quartz, outgoing Daily Tar Heel editor-in-chief Jenny Surane at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wrote, “[I]t’s humbling to realize that the newspaper I spend so many hours working on isn’t really beloved by my peers in the same way. … My peers are interested in reading news, but they have no loyalties whatsoever about where it comes from. … Even some of my closest friends refused to pick up the newspaper I spent dozens of hours on each week.”

Her sentiments have been echoed in recent semesters by many students and educators connected to college media. Audience engagement is of course always an issue when undergraduates are involved. But the challenge of getting students to regularly check out their campus news outlets is exponentially increasing in an era cluttered with evermore competitors and platforms and bereft of old-media brand loyalty.

For this CMM special series, 20 current and recent top student journalists in the U.S. and Canada offer their perspectives, ideas and advice centered on a single question at the heart of college media’s future: How do we get students to care more about the student press? 

The Future of College Media: How Do We Get Students to Care More?
Part 19: ‘Dedicated to Reporting Social Justice Happenings’

By Petra Zarah Jarrar, The New School

Founder, The Antithesis

When I entered my sophomore year of college last fall, I made a promise to myself to find a way to become more involved in the community at our university. However, finding out how to become a part of different on­-campus organizations was more difficult than I anticipated.

Finding organizations and people to contact was harder than I thought. Yet, early in the semester, I received an email from my university to run for a position as a student representative on the social justice committee.

After being elected as a student representative, I attended the monthly meetings and had the chance to look at the university’s social justice efforts from an administrative perspective. The more I listened to separate faculty, staff and work groups talk about the events and programs they were hosting, I began to wonder why I, as a student, had never previously heard about these initiatives. Soon, I began having conversations with organizers about their social justice groups. They all expressed similar concerns about their work not receiving the attention it deserves.

At first, I tried thinking of ways I could propose a resource for all students, faculty and staff to find more information about the efforts of student groups on campus. I initially thought an online calendar, or a directory, could organize everything easily and do the job. Yet, I quickly realized I not only wanted to create a source for students to find everything they need about social justice groups, but to also learn more about the issues these groups built their organizations upon.

All it took was a 2o-minute phone call with my mother while walking back to my apartment to find the proper solution. I expressed my frustrations. She compelled me to action.

In January 2015, I established an independent online student-run newspaper called The Antithesis. It is dedicated to reporting social justice happenings at The New School. Reporters write stories about events and organizations that are bringing important campus and community issues to light. Not only does the paper report about the discussions we have on campus, but also issues that occur across the city and nationwide.

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The staff of the Antithesis is comprised of roughly 15 reporters, supporters and contributors who assist with all aspects of content creation and production. Given our start-up status and small size, staffers not only assist with reporting, but are also actively involved with spreading the word about the paper — such as updating social media, posting flyers in campus buildings and cluing in professors and classmates.

We are constantly seeking new ways to raise awareness about the paper among students — and better integrate students from different disciplines and divisions at The New School into our contributor and readership mix. One way we have achieved this is by creating an Artist of the Month column. The feature showcases the work of students at The New School who specialize their art in social justice issues. We also will soon be involving students who have a specialized interest in radio broadcasting by creating a podcast for students to tune into at their own leisure via a stream on our website.

An April 2015 Antithesis staff photo. Among those featured in the top row (l to r): Ana Miljak, Adriana Perhamus, Petra Zarah Jarrar and (far right) Rafaella Gunz. Bottom row: Joe Giacona and Thomas Blakeley.

An April 2015 Antithesis staff photo. Among those featured in the top row (l to r): Ana Miljak, Adriana Perhamus, Petra Zarah Jarrar and (far right) Rafaella Gunz. Bottom row: Joe Giacona and Thomas Blakeley.

Another way we have achieved community involvement with our newspaper is by participating in university-wide initiatives and efforts. Many reporters at the Antithesis are actively involved with student governments and attend meetings in an effort to learn more about campus life. We have also stood in solidarity with specific causes, such as the Fight for $15, an effort to increase the minimum wage, and to raise standards for adjunct faculty.

Even though the Antithesis has been around for only six months, I feel as though we have been able to create a unique space where students are comfortable to talk about issues that matter to them. We have been able to build a community of like-minded students who are advocates for social change at our university and within our city.

During a recent podcast, Jarrar spoke to me more about the origins of, and rationale behind, The Antithesis and the realities associated with running a “no-budget newspaper.” She also offered advice to student journalists similarly interested in exploring social justice on or near their own campus.

Having a newspaper that is able to address a specific cause or effort at a university is beneficial. These publications allow for certain stories that would not get published in a general campus paper, and also creates an accessible resource for an audience that is specifically looking for these stories. I can only hope that the Antithesis will continually expand, and also for other student journalists at universities nationwide to create publications based around communities that matter to the majority of the student population.

Petra Zarah Jarrar is a student at The New School in New York City, where she majors in politics and global studies. She is the founder and top editor of The Antithesis.

Check out other parts of this CMM special series

Part 1: ‘A Makeshift Umbrella During a Rainy Day’ by Matt Lemas, University of Southern California

Part 2‘That Hip, Instagram-Worthy Quality’ by Danielle Klein, University of Toronto

Part 3: ‘Initiating a Complete Culture Shift’ by Katie Kutsko, University of Kansas

Part 4‘For Me, Adaptability is Key’ by Ali Swenson, Loyola Marymount University

Part 5‘The Job I’m Training for Will Always Exist’ by Kyle Walker, University of Tulsa

Part 6‘An Edge in the Algorithms’ by Alex Bitter, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Part 7: ‘News the Way Our Readers Want to Consume It’ by Sami Edge, University of Oregon

Part 8‘Go Out and Play Scientist’ by Nizia Alam, University of Texas at Tyler

Part 9‘The Generation Changing the News’ by Emma Discher, Tulane University

Part 10‘Why We Report What We Do’ by Gary Grumbach, Elon University

Part 11‘Do the Best You Can With What You Have’ by Louis Oprisa, City College of New York

Part 12‘Focusing on Quality Rather Than Quantity’ by Alicia Keene, Texas Tech University

Part 13‘The Ways We Organically Attract Readers’ by Sean Feverston, Otterbein University

Part 14‘Involving the Community in the Process’ by Nicole Brown, New York University

Part 15‘Trying to Be People’s First Stop for News’ by Olivia Krauth, University of Louisville

Part 16: ‘The Lessons I Learned About Audience’ by Claire Dodson, University of Tennessee

Part 17: ‘Face the Uncertain Future of Journalism Head-On’ by Angela Christaldi, Saint Joseph’s University

Part 18: ‘The Secret in the Sauce’ by Joey Stipek, University of Oklahoma

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