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To Stop American Journalism’s Continued Decline, Start with College Campuses


This article by Roger Ream originally appeared in National Review. You can find the original article here.

Colleges are effectively severing the pipeline between young writers who happen to be conservative and their future careers in journalism. That must change.

Once a place for the open exchange of ideas and honest debate, many U.S. college campuses no longer tolerate dissenting views expressed by students and professors. Look no further than a recent report from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which underscores this troubling trend with a survey of 55,000 students across more than 250 universities. Over half of college students say they are concerned about ruining their reputation or being “canceled” by sharing openly their thoughts and opinions. More than 25 percent find themselves self-censoring their remarks amid campus conversations and classroom discussions.

This phenomenon, which has allowed dogma and ideology to supplant the search for truth, has taken root in college lecture halls, student governments, and campus newspapers. The trend has major implications for American life, as today’s students become tomorrow’s leaders. Its effects may be most clearly felt in a profession historically associated with reporting the facts and promoting diversity of opinion: American journalism. If unchecked, it will have both short- and long-term repercussions not just for future journalists but for the American experiment as a whole.

“Many elite universities right now are allowing progressive students to take the reins on campus discourse — whether academic or extracurricular,” shares Carine Hajjar, a journalist who graduated from Harvard College in 2021. Hajjar, a Joseph Rago Memorial Fellow, saw firsthand how it became possible to “alienate certain people academically, socially, and professionally” when those people held unpopular, often politically conservative, opinions. Unlike many students, Hajjar was able to share her right-leaning views in the university’s newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. Her first piece was aptly titled, “I’m Scared to Write this Column.”

The shaming of those on campus who dare speak their minds has consequences further downstream in American media. Put down that campus newspaper and pick up the latest edition of a leading national daily and you’ll likely find the content is not much different: coverage that aligns with the story du jour, with journalists parroting what many of their peers have already written in order not to rock the boat and enrage the “woke.” Such work requires little investigative fortitude or original reporting; rather, it prioritizes affirmation of the status quo.The implications are dangerous when you consider the role America’s news media are meant to play in maintaining our democracy. The rights to a free press and free speech are among the first listed in our Bill of Rights. They are meant to protect against tyranny and to enable independent voices to hold government accountable.

But those things can’t happen if journalists aren’t trained properly in undergraduate and graduate journalism programs. The echo chambers of progressive ideology these institutions encourage has left little room for students to practice independent reporting techniques, polish their writing abilities, and most important, develop critical-thinking skills. Instead of welcoming students of diverse political perspectives and viewpoints, colleges are effectively severing the pipeline between young writers who happen to be conservative and their future careers in journalism.

My organization, The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), has worked for decades to mitigate this damage through programs such as summer journalism programs, the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowships, and the Joseph Rago Memorial Fellowship — a position Hajjar held following her graduation. We’re now expanding these efforts by launching a new Center for Excellence in Journalism. The center supports young journalists with a passion for writing and reporting through training, seminars, conferences, grants, and the creation of the Student Journalism Association. We will also work directly with independent campus publications to develop the next generation of courageous journalists and support more ideological diversity in the media. These efforts are necessary to promote objectivity and fairness in how the American news media operate, and to restore the balanced, fact-finding mission that most mainstream news outlets once pursued.

Between partisanship, censorship, and cancel culture, the headwinds facing traditional American journalism are strong. It is up to the next generation to begin changing the way the media operate. By finding, training, and empowering these up-and-coming journalists of tomorrow, we can help return facts and truth to their privileged places in American society.

ROGER REAM is the president of The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), a nonprofit educational organization that works with high-school and college students to promote the principles of free-market economics, limited government, and honorable leadership. He is also the host of the LIBERTY + LEADERSHIP podcast.


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