Historically, the institution of journalism has failed to adequately represent people from low-income backgrounds, as well as people of color, both in its newsrooms and in its stories. We here at The Amherst Student are sadly no exception.
The long, unpaid hours that have characterized the workload of The Student are unrealistic for anyone who is already struggling with financial stability at college or who needs paid work for their tuition. Combined with the lack of previous exposure to journalism that underrepresented students often face, the end result is a newsroom whose barriers to entry are so high that an unrepresentative level of privilege is required to overcome them.
In the particular work of journalism, lacking representation on staff often directly translates to lacking representation in coverage. It means that editorial choices, discussions and steering will inevitably be based on a financially privileged, often white-dominated, experience. It ultimately means that for a large proportion of the Amherst student body, we are not adequately telling their story, nor are we providing them the skills they need to tell it themselves.
Creating a more inclusive and equitable newsroom will not happen on its own. We must take active steps to open the gates that have systematically kept people out.
That’s why we have partnered with the Association of Amherst Students to launch The Amherst Student Voices Fund, a program that sponsors a number of paid positions in our newsroom for students from underrepresented groups, particularly students from first-generation or low-income backgrounds, as well as students of color.
As a pilot, the Voices Fund will finance three paid positions at $15 a hour for an average of five hours a week for the 2021-2022 academic year, which will subsequently increase to six paid positions in the following academic year supposing successful implementation of the program. We do not expect students to have prior newsroom experience, only an interest and a willingness to learn.
To that end, each of the student reporters selected through this process will be paired with an experienced editor who will guide them through the ins-and-outs of contributing to a newspaper. This will include workshops and training that cover basic concepts of news-writing and reporting, among other things. Student reporters will work with their assigned editors to determine the style of content best suited to them, and will produce articles (or other equivalent content) that are of their own interest and articles that are directly assigned to them.
Adequate representation and accessibility is not an easy task. But it must start as early as possible, for the inequities in experience at the college level will only replicate and escalate if left alone. This program, in our eyes, is a first step.
Even so, we acknowledge that The Voices Fund is not the end-all remedy. We approach this program with the knowledge that underrepresentation is a deep problem requiring a multi-pronged solution. The Voices Fund is just one prong. As such, we intend to take further action to foster a supportive space for our staff. With a renewed focus on mentorship and training, we are diligently working to ensure that all prospective student journalists are not just welcomed into the newsroom but feel equipped to stay there.
You can apply to one of the three Voices fund positions here.