Can The Siskiyou be Saved?
Ryan Degan & Eli Stillman
“This is all I got for you guys…but it’s not for lack of trying.” The words from our department chair, Alena Ruggerio, that were meant to comfort us did nothing more than fill the awkward silence in the small journalism lab.
We had just been told that because of our course’s low enrollment, SOU would no longer be able to support the school paper as a class. Something was missing…and it wasn’t our 12 foot conference table that had been removed mysteriously during spring break.
In the 90 years of the Siskiyou’s existence, the paper has changed with the times. As you’re probably aware, we no longer print, we receive no funding nor have a journalism program to enlist writers. The first two issues have been manageable and being able to publish online does provide us some undeniable benefits.
We’ve worked around these funding problems and, in terms of numbers, succeeded. Our readership has never been higher in the five years that we have been a digital source of media.
We’ve broken stories and our staff has proven that we are fit to fight in the world of journalism. As much is apparent in that multiple student writers already contribute to local media outlets like The Rogue Valley Messenger and the Ashland Daily Tidings. Personally, I will be continuing my journalism career upon graduating as I have been awarded a competitive internship where I will work full-time at a daily paper.
All of these jobs are great but with the paper gone, how can we continue to learn or provide future students similar opportunities? The reason that our department feels they can no longer support the class is because of low enrollment. It’s not a money issue as is with many other school papers that are cut. As previously stated, we already receive zero funding.
Here’s how it works: We meet only once a week in a small room with no windows but really nice computers. The course can be taken by SOU students for 2 credits where they receive a grade at the end of the quarter based on their contributions, attendance and involvement. This grading system was implemented with the idea that students would turn more stories if it was on assignment and not in the club as it was in the years before.
I’m told that once upon a time when the Siskiyou was in its prime, the club was highly competitive. However, once the journalism program was cut, the ambitious writers seemed to disappear and the paper grew weak.
When the club was competitive, it was run by a full-time journalism professor and fed by students pursuing a degree in journalism. While there still are some of us interested in research, writing, and reporting the SOU comm department is limited in courses that it offers to teach these skills. It does make sense though, as there obviously is a major problem with getting students to sign up for these courses.
Last winter a sports journalism course was offered at Southern Oregon. It was supposed to be taught by former Sports Illustrated reporter and Pulitzer prize winning author George Dorhmann. However, due to the fact that there was a false prerequisite placed on the course which literally kept any student from signing up for the class unless they had taken a different course which was never offered, they couldn’t get in. This error was caught and corrected only two days before the term started. As one would guess, the class didn’t attract enough enrollment in those 48 hours and was cut for the term.
Scheduling problems like this have surfaced since then and Ruggiero says that a part of this could be from 4 different people holding the position of scheduler in the last year and a half
“I absolutely believe that our campus, our region, and our nation needs journalists who have solidly academically trained journalism skills. I just think that what that looks like in 2016 has to be couched in the digital age, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do with the social media and public engagement concentration. This narrative that SOU is killing journalism is incorrect and inaccurate because what we’ve been trying to do is adapt to the trends and student demand,” said Ruggiero.
While the Siskiyou has adapted to the changing trends in journalism. It does teach students the fine points of traditional journalism and journalistic style, through evolving modern practices. It teaches students to think critically, ask tough questions, format material for an online view, as well as the importance and strategies of working in an digital age. “Journalism is the cornerstone of any Democracy” says instructor Julie Akins, a 30 year journalism professional and current reporter for several publications including the Ashland Daily Tidings. “How can you be a serious university without a student newspaper? It’s a basic responsibility around transparency and service to the student community” continues Akins.
The registration system as a contributor to low enrollment is also part of the problem for The Siskiyou according to Akins. “For two years I’ve brought up concerns about the process. There were prerequisites required but not offered, demand for signatures when none should have been needed, add to this that in at least one term the class had been listed as full when no students had signed up yet. When you make it impossible to sign up for a class how can you shut it down for low enrollment? Beyond that, how can you close a 90 year journalistic institution with virtually no notice. Nothing about this feels right.” said Akins.
The fate of the Siskiyou may be in doubt, but our staff writers will not allow the publication to go gentle into that good night. Currently we are working to have the Siskiyou included in SOU’s endowment foundation. The aim of the campaign is to raise $50,000, this will ensure the Siskiyou’s lasting legacy at SOU. The initial funds will grant the Siskiyou a budget for several years, enabling us to pay editors a salary by term, reporters by the article, and even have semiannual print issues available to SOU students.
A full budget proposal will be made available to SOU administration and faithful Siskiyou readers soon.