Letter to the Editor: Do the right thing: Support your fellow students

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By John Strauss

I recently spent four days as a first-time visitor to the DePauw campus, here to speak with media students about mobile video, state public records laws and jobs in communications.

This is an amazing place, with students as impressive as those I’ve seen anywhere – really smart, curious, and engaged – and excellent ambassadors for DePauw and the kind of people that faculty anywhere would love to have.

I thought of this because of my own nine years as a university journalism instructor, and because of an editorial I read in the March 6 edition of The DePauw, “Walk a mile in our shoes.”

The editorial notes a Student Press Law Center finding that “student journalists are continually threatened by censorship, retaliation, budget cuts, lack of access and many other challenges.”

Those challenges occur here, too. To cite one example from the editorial:

“Professors, please note that when you critique the paper in class, there may be student journalists present. We are appreciative of your attention and readership, but we are people and take your opinions to heart.”

This isn’t to say they never make mistakes. Of course they do – the rough first draft of history that is journalism inevitably includes errors, and reputable organizations correct them immediately. The New York Times on Tuesday published 400 words of corrections.

But your fellow students in any activity, including journalism, deserve your support. If student journalists – or student athletes, musicians, actors or others – are being embarrassed in class, somebody needs to say something.

And that person to speak up may be you. It can be as simple as:

“May I weigh in here? You have people in this class who’ve poured their hearts into this (team, newspaper, activity). It’s a free country, but you should know that you may be humiliating somebody by calling them out this way.”

If someone else defends a person getting picked on, back them up. Stand with them and stick up for your fellow students – or anybody else – if you think they’re being bullied.

You may say that the student journalists should expect criticism. They do expect it, and in fact they get heaping doses of abuse from online commenters, from every direction in social media and, sadly, in email from angry staff and faculty – the very people who should show leadership.

It takes a thick skin to speak the truth in public these days, and the students know it. But if they make mistakes and disappoint you occasionally, just remember: They’re here to learn. Give them credit for putting themselves out there and doing their best to set a professional standard. And when somebody attacks them, do the right thing:

Stand up for your fellow students.

John Strauss is a former Associated Press correspondent and public television producer, newspaper columnist and online editor. He now serves as digital editor for a national philanthropy based in Indianapolis.