How free is Cleveland State’s student press?

A reminder: There are five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment

By Kourtney Husnick

The First Amendment is a common topic at Cleveland State University. We’ve heard about the right to free speech when graphic anti-LGBT flyers appeared on our campus two years ago and when religious protestors shout threats of hell at students in the Student Center courtyard.

Cleveland State’s administration defends and protects free speech in those situations, but when it comes to a free press, the defense weakens.

It’s not surprising. The Cauldron, for example, has built a reputation for holding people accountable here — the main task student newspapers exist to complete. As the former News Editor and current Editor-in-Chief, I know better than anyone what the reactions look like when we tiptoe past basic event coverage. As I prefer to explain it, we aren’t fully doing our jobs if someone isn’t complaining to me about the paper.

Those attitudes toward student media tend to miss a key point of understanding: Student journalists are real journalists. The standards and expectations should be the same. This means covering difficult topics and informing the campus community of situations that may be uncomfortable.

On a professional level, the United States has dropped to rank 48th globally for press freedom in 2019, and student publications have extra obstacles to navigate.

Like professional publications, we often face difficulties when requesting public records. Currently, I am still waiting on several requests made at the beginning of last month. For one of those requests, it’s my third attempt since April because the Office of General Counsel keeps sending me improperly redacted police reports.

Sometimes, it’s an issue of access to records. Sometimes, it’s an issue of access to sources for interviews. Those problems are common for professional media and student organizations alike, and the student-based challenges are often much more problematic.

We function under a constant threat of budget cuts with a much more limited ability to make up for what has become a consistent annual decrease of our base funding. We couldn’t afford to print all seven issues this semester, and it wasn’t based on our own decisions. I was required to select one issue to be “online-only” before this semester started. It’s likely that next semester will look the same way.

Cutting publications’ budgets is a form of censorship many student publications face. Even universities forcing  publications out of print and into all-digital formats is a challenge in student newsrooms that falls under the category of censorship.

This doesn’t even touch content censorship, which is a whole different beast for student journalists.

Regardless of the struggles we face, The Cauldron is lucky in comparison to newspapers at other universities. The overwhelming majority of students who interact with this publication are supportive. This year especially, our readers have had our backs at an unprecedented level in the time I’ve been here.

Universities are, in their own way, a community. More often than not, student journalists are on the front lines as the watchdogs of the administration.

In the spirit of a free student press, I’m asking you, the students of Cleveland State, to use your voices. Join our contributor list. Try requesting public records from the university (ask us how at Advocate with us next month for Student Press Freedom Day.

Sometimes, the First Amendment is a battle. Even on our campus, where flyers encouraging the LGBT community to harm themselves could be defended as a First Amendment right, a free press isn’t guaranteed. The service we provide for you — and trust me, this is a service — is always at risk, but it doesn’t have to be.