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Student journalists don’t cut corners, but they do cut up

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Steve Stewart

Faculty Adviser

When I arrived almost 10 years ago as the adviser to student publications, I found that somebody had put a sign on the wall of the office suite shared by the Tropolitan and the Palladium: “Trojans don’t cut corners.” Three of the four corners of the sign had been clipped off.

That sign remained in place for several years but disappeared during a housecleaning. I would have wanted to keep it as a souvenir. Fortunately, I had taken a picture.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with what the sign says: Good Trojans don’t cut corners, nor do good journalists. We go where the news is, call people who know what’s happening and do thorough research in pursuit of the facts in order to share them with readers. We don’t guess or make anything up.

That’s the code that Tropolitan newspaper and Palladium yearbook staff members live by as journalists and as students. 

The clipped corners, though, illustrate the healthy skepticism and independence journalists apply to their jobs — not to mention the fact that a newsroom is a fun place to work, awash with diverse and colorful characters.

Russell Baker, a longtime New York Times columnist, said it well in his memoirs. He was describing the staff of the student newspaper of the university he attended, Johns Hopkins.

“Like all the newspaper offices I would later know,” he wrote, “the News-Letter’s attracted people whose minds were open and interesting, people who were curious instead of preachy, people who distrusted people who had all the answers, people with a taste of the raffish, people who wanted life to be interesting rather than safe.”

He was right about newspapers and newsrooms in general. I have been working in newsrooms since I was a teenager and have known many people who fit that description. 

I met my wife, Patrice, on the student newspaper staff at the University of Georgia. We have worked together in several newsrooms. Most recently, it has been my privilege to work with the students who produce the Tropolitan and the Palladium. 

I’ll be retiring Dec. 31 as student publications adviser and will retire in a few months from the university faculty. Teaching at Troy University has been rewarding in many ways, but working with student journalists is at the top of my list.

I appreciate the hard work these students do on behalf of their student readers. Be grateful when they are skeptical and nosy on your behalf. You deserve to know the truth, and their job is to ask tough questions. Far from being enemies of the people, journalists are the people’s essential allies.

With the newspaper, online publishing, the yearbook, television and radio, student journalists are creating records of the university and its people that all of us and our grandchildren will value. I am proud of the awards they’ve won and the success they’ve achieved in school and afterward.

I also thank all those who have supported student journalists’ work — most especially people who made themselves available as sources for stories. Journalists need to obtain facts and explanations from the horse’s mouth, meaning the person who knows the most. By approaching sources high and low, student journalists gain confidence and professional skills. 

I also am grateful to those sources who tolerated the occasional honest mistakes that all journalists make.

My faculty colleague Robbyn Brooks Taylor — a veteran multimedia journalist and educator and a Troy graduate with a love of Trojan traditions — will be the next adviser to student publications. I expect the students to achieve great things with her support. 

It will be fun. You might want to join in.

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