Letter From the Editor: Journalism at SOU
Eli Stillman, Editor in Chief
If you haven’t heard, some great news: The Siskiyou will return to Southern Oregon University next school year. A few weeks ago, we jumped through the application hoops and became a recognized club, as our budget proposal was accepted by the Student Fees Committee. This one-year allocation of funds will allow us to pay our writers as well as a full-time editor. This is a big change from how the newspaper has operated in the past. For the last few years, The Siskiyou was run through a communications course and, while we had a part-time professor to lead us, the trade off was that we weren’t allowed to ask for money to pay staff.
I can’t overstate how big a deal this is. We’ve got a few dedicated students returning in the fall and, if we can keep the momentum going, The Siskiyou will not only continue to serve the SOU community but improve at that important task.
Amidst that good news, a bit of caution: I remain worried about the state of journalism on campus. Student government has supported the paper and understand the need for a free press, but the lack of student interest is a problem. We can’t be a paper that fights each year for survival. We need students to care, and to care so much that they get involved and help build The Siskiyou into something that doesn’t just limp along but grows and thrives.
How that happens is something of a chicken or egg issue. If we had a great newspaper more students would be engaged, but how do you produce a great product without more students? I don’t have a definitive answers to that question, but I have some thoughts.
Much of the talk about the survival of the The Siskiyou over the past months has focused on whether we need a class and who would teach it, but it hasn’t touched on the most important element related to the faculty: If The Siskiyou is going to thrive, we need professors who encourage students to explore their curiosity in writing and journalism.
Please indulge me in a personal anecdote for a moment: When I transferred to SOU, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I was mostly just excited about racing through the woods and around an oval.Through the guidance of Jody Waters, former head of the communication department and now assistant provost of SOU, I was advised to take a sports reporting class with George Dohrmann. I’d earned decent grades at my community college in English classes and thought studying articles could be fun. Why not take that class?
After I turned in a couple assignments, George pulled me aside and told me that I was pretty good at this for never having done it before. He even gave me some running-related articles to read on my own and told our whole class that we would receive extra credit if we wrote for The Siskiyou. He stressed that if you don’t want to pursue journalism as a career, writing for a paper will help you in other careers and look good on your resume.
This is how I met Julie Akins, who at the time was the advisor of The Siskiyou. Julie saw how excited I was to write and report and when the position for editor in chief opened up in the next term, she offered me the job. I was nervous to accept, but it would prove to be one of the best moves of my life as it has set me on an exciting course. A few days after graduation, I will move to Astoria, Oregon to work for the newspaper there, having earned an internship through a competitive program sponsored by the University of Oregon. My landing of that internship was hailed by some faculty, but I wonder if they know what led to it: George planted a seed. He and Julie helped it grow. And now I am embarking on my career.
That is, in a nutshell, the foundational mission of a university, to educate and inspire and enable students to go out into the world. As I leave, I worry that with Julie not being asked to return, and with George’s only being asked to teach sporadically, who will plant the seeds of inspiration? Who will cultivate and direct those who show an interest in journalism? In short, who from the faculty will identify and support potential journalists and direct them toward The Siskiyou?
The fight to save The Siskiyou has been a trying and emotional experience. It is something I will never forget. But more indelible are memories of how I engaged with the campus community as a writer and editor. Instead of just dipping a toe in the college experience, I became fully immersed. That is something I hope current and future students get to experience, as that is not just good for the The Siskiyou, it is good for all of SOU.