Photo Courtesy of Buena Park High School

May 12, 2024

RUBINSON | Student Journalism Pushes Me Forward

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Being a student journalist is no easy feat. You are tasked with reporting on the community in which you are inherently intertwined, covering contentious issues that implicate your peers and professors. You are told a juicy secret, only for your friend to then panic and tell you it is to remain off-the-record. You receive texts from an acquaintance for months, lobbying for you to report on their project team’s achievement that you know has no significance to the greater Cornell community.

Perhaps you report on a controversial remark a professor made at a rally. For weeks after, your Jewish peers approach you and ask how you could platform someone who espoused hateful rhetoric. At the same time, you receive public condemnation from a BIPOC student publication, alleging that you took the professor’s words out of context. You then receive droves of anonymous direct messages threatening you and questioning your impartiality.

Maybe you decide to investigate how a student leader was able to oust a city council incumbent through a secretive write-in campaign, only to find that it appears fraternities were a major voting bloc. Those fraternities then close ranks and even call the police on you for knocking on their doors. And after managing to get multiple brothers to speak to you about how they were promised a change in the noise ordinance to allow for later parties in exchange for their vote, those same students blame you when the article is published for the blowback they received from their fraternities for speaking to the press.

I could go on, and so could most student journalists who make the conscious choice to pursue truth despite its potential personal repercussions. I’ve lost friends over being a Sun reporter. I’ve been called a racist, a Zionist, a Hamas supporter, a liberal, a conservative and heard just about every insult in the book. After my first article as a staff writer, I received an email calling me “a pathetic excuse of an alleged journalist,” and the messages have just gotten feistier since.

So why be a student journalist? Why dedicate almost every waking moment to a school newspaper if it leaves you inundated with hate and questions of your character? 

Some might think we are simply gossip-hungry, always on the lookout for our next big scoop to stir up controversy. I certainly got that allegation over articles I’ve written, including from members of Greek life over a story on a Student Assembly member’s plan to install a fraternity “machine” on the governing body, with the goals of blocking negative portrayals of the Greek system and women’s health-related legislation. Others have accused me of being sensational, as some did after I published the stories of multiple young women who accused a Student Assembly candidate in his mid-thirties of inappropriate behavior

Some may become student journalists in search of community, and The Sun certainly has a great one. I’ve met some of the most dedicated and inspiring people at Cornell on The Sun, and made memories and friends that will last a lifetime. But this is simply a plus, a great addition to the true reason my identity has centered around this paper for the last four years.

The real reason I, and many others around the country, have decided to pursue journalism is simple: to inform our community and hold those in power accountable. We do this despite facing gloomy career prospects post-graduation. We do this despite having to refrain from voicing our opinions on pressing issues. And we even do it despite the near-constant negativity surrounding the topics we cover and responses to that coverage.

And our reporting matters to the Cornell community. After my article on Professor Russell Rickford was published, the campus had an immediate reaction, with acts of protest both in opposition and support of the professor. After my investigation into Student Assembly leader Rocco DeLorenzo was released, the S.A. Office of Ethics conducted their own internal investigation, leading to a recall vote and DeLorenzo’s last-minute resignation

As journalists, we help drive campus conversation. We uncover information that leaders try to suppress. We listen to criticism and become better reporters from it. And even though we are not activists, oftentimes our reporting can lead to real change in our community.

Being a student journalist can be a thankless job. But those who do it don’t do it for thanks. We do it on principle.

Sofia Rubinson is a graduating senior from the College of Arts and Sciences. She served as the Managing Editor on The Sun’s 141st Masthead and News Editor on the 140th Masthead. She can be reached at [email protected]

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