An archive of CWU history

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An archive of CWU history

Mariah Valles, Editor-in-Chief

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With the current state of the national administration and the constant bashing of the press, it’s an inconvenient time to be a student journalist. It’s also the best time to be a student journalist.

Despite what the 24-hour news cycle seems to imply, not all news revolves around the president in Washington D.C.

This school year has been packed with news at the CWU Ellensburg campus. Two ROTC students died in fall. There was an active shooter false alarm in winter. Kittitas County’s Deputy Ryan Thompson was killed in the line of duty in early spring.

Being a student journalist this year has been eye opening. I was used to writing stories that people would quickly forget about. Not this year.

I interviewed students who were locked in Brooks Library for hours not knowing if their friends had been shot or not. I spent hours upon hours dissecting 50 pages of public records regarding the active shooter event.

I covered a memorial for a law enforcement official who died in the line of duty in Kittitas County.

I followed a protest group around Ellensburg that was known for instigating violence, front and center, for two days. The protest did not become violent.

The Observer newsroom had countless conversations about coverage plans for the memorial, aftermath of the active shooter false alarm, Patriot Prayer protest and other difficult stories.

We weren’t sure of the perfect way to cover these challenging stories, but one thing we did know was that students and community deserved the facts. The most challenging part about covering these events was deciding where the ethical boundary was.

Do we cover the vigil for the two students? Should we interview students who were distraught after they spent hours thinking they were about to die? How do we fairly cover a protest group advocating for the Second Amendment?

These are only some of the questions we discussed. It’s easy to self-censor as a student journalist. Being a student and a journalist simultaneously is enough of a challenge. Throwing death and guns in the mix makes for a next-level challenge.

I saw my peers upset over their friends passing away. I heard former classmates crying on their phones talking about how they didn’t know what was going on, but that there was mention of a possible active shooter.

It can be hard to talk about traumatic experiences.

Is it necessary? Yes.

In The Observer newsroom, we decided we would not self-censor. By doing so, we added to the history of CWU. By documenting these events in the university’s history, The Observer ensured they always be accessible to present students, alumni and future Wildcats.

According to the digital commons website, the student newspaper has been published since December 1916 and is one of the most requested university archives at Brooks Library.

In its history, the student newspaper has written stories on Richard Nixon’s presidency, the Columbine High School shooting and Ted Bundy’s murder of Susan Elaine Rancourt.

All student newspaper archives dating from 1916 to 2009 can be found on CWU’s digital commons website. There, the student-run newspaper is claimed as “not only the primary source of information on the history of Central Washington University but also an important resource on the history of central Washington state.”

A majority of other archives can be found on issuu.com/CWUObserver or cwuobserver.com.

The student newspaper is just as important in 2019 as it was in 1916.

This year is the Student Press Law Center’s (SPLC) “Year of the Student Journalist.” The SPLC is an independent, non-partisan organization that works to promote, support and defend the First Amendment and press freedom rights of high school and college journalists and their advisers. The SPLC was founded in 1974 and had been a prevalent voice in the work of “New Voices” legislations.

These legislations go against the 1988 Supreme Court Case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which ended in a 5-3 ruling stating that school administrators had the right to censor student journalists from publishing stories on teen pregnancy and divorce.

A New Voices law was signed in Washington state in March 2018. The passing of the law could not have been possible without students, advisers and SPLC representative Mike Histand who all spoke about the importance of First Amendment rights for student journalists both in high school and college.

“By the students, for the students” has been the slogan of The Observer for many years. The New Voices law only cements this phrase. The Observer works to report factual, informative stories for CWU students. The Observer is not afraid to talk about struggles the university faces, even if that means making higher-ups upset or being placed in uncomfortable situations.

Unfortunately, America is seeing less and less local news. According to Poynter.com, about 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the United States have gone out of business or merged since 2004. In 2004, about 9,000 were being published. Coverage in newspapers that still exist has scaled back drastically. Some researches are even calling them “ghost newspapers.”

Ellensburg has a population of about 20,000. It won’t get the same news coverage as larger cities like Seattle. Reporters from KING 5, KOMO or Q13 aren’t going to drive to Ellensburg to cover the active shooter follow up story, but that event had a large impact on the local community and learning more about it was important to students and their families.

At the same time, The Daily Record, the local newspaper in Ellensburg, has a very different audience than The Observer. The Daily Record won’t be able to cover everything CWU students care about. All of this makes student media that more important. Far from being “the enemy of the people,” we get to play an important service role in the community in which we live, study and work.

Indeed, it’s the best time to be a student journalist.

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