Opinion: ‘Student newsrooms are essential to the entire idea of a free press’

McMahon in the Colorado Public Radio newsroom. (courtesy of Xandra McMahon)

The CU Independent is participating in the national Save Student Newsrooms campaign on Wednesday, April 25. As part of the campaign we are sharing testimonials from former CU Independent writers this week on how the CUI prepared them for the world of professional journalism. Today, Xandra McMahon weighs in:

I always tell people I learned 90 percent of what I know about journalism from the CU Independent’s newsroom and…yeah… about 10 percent from actually sitting in a class. And this is no disrespect to the wonderful journalism instructors at CU, it’s just that journalism needs to be taught more like a trade than an academic discipline. If you’re studying to be a mechanic do you think you’d spend most of your time sitting at a desk, learning out of a textbook? Probably not. Student journalists need to be in the shop as soon as possible, getting in the action, making mistakes and learning from them in real time. The student newsrooms of the world are those shops.

Out of college I landed a dream job – a fellowship at Colorado Public Radio where I could continue to foster my passion for audio storytelling. Did I know that working in radio would be my dream job going into college freshman year? No. I discovered this passion at the CU Independent when I was introduced to podcasts. I was recruited freshman year to work on a new project that partnered with another student media outlet, Radio 1190. When I discovered the endless possibilities of painting pictures with sound, I was hooked. I wanted to do more with it, so I launched the podcasts. And the best part was, everyone at the CUI kept saying yes to my crazy ideas and bought me all the equipment I needed with the very small budget we had. Where else will student journalists get this chance to run with their ideas at full speed?

One more thing I owe to the CU Independent – my friends. I’m an awkward and shy person, so making friends is hard for me. It sounds cheesy, but the CUI gave me my people, it gave me a journalism family. And that’s an aspect of student newsrooms that shouldn’t be overlooked. They come at a crucial time in life; not only are they training the future watchdogs but they’re shaping them and giving them their first experience of newsroom camaraderie. If fledgling journalists feel like they don’t fit into that world then there might end up being one less talented person to hold the powerful accountable. Student newsrooms are essential to the entire idea of a free press. And they’re 100 percent worth saving.

Xandra McMahon is a former CU Independent editor in chief and current News Fellow at  Colorado Public Radio. Follow her on twitter at @xanmcmahon.

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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