Kaitlyn Tambasco, Managing News Editor
Faculty and Tangerine alumni reflect on freedom of the press and its role at UC.
Jan. 29 marked Student Press Freedom Day, a time that acknowledges the contributions of student journalists as well as the need to support their independence without the fear of censorship.
It also marks the anniversary of the Hazelwood decision from 1988. This landmark decision by the Supreme Court Case originated when the principal of a high school in Missouri censored the student newspaper from publishing articles on teen pregnancy and the impact divorce had on students. For some former Utica College student journalists, the idea of freedom of the press and free speech really hits home.
Ben Mehic, ‘17, was involved with the Tangerine for about two years. He began as a student writer and then was Managing News Editor. He described the First Amendment as the greatest tool used for accountability. He said that while colleges want to hold themselves to a degree of perfection, such an institution does not exist.
“Without student journalism, it would be impossible to find the truth. All the students would just accept what the professors, deans and the president are telling them, which, of course, will be from a subjective point of view.”
Ben Mehic ’17, former Managing News Editor at the Tangerine
Mehic said to better understand the evolving culture and how to keep up with that evolution, the responsibility is on the students to keep the school in check and what better way to do than through objective journalism.
“As a student journalist, you’re responsible for creating transparency–for finding the truth, for asking Laura Casamento the question that’s on everyone’s mind and for coming at it from an objective standpoint instead of serving as the school’s PR firm,” Mehic said. “Without student journalism, it would be impossible to find the truth. All the students would just accept what the professors, deans and the president are telling them, which, of course, will be from a subjective point of view.”
Mehic said student journalists have a responsibility to be honest and to work hard in their pursuit of the stories that are worth a reader’s time. He explained that he never had a hard time with the school, even when he wrote difficult pieces that did not put the college in a good spot.
“There’s a difference between simply writing a story and doing journalism and when journalism is done, it will capture the audience,” Mehic said. “It’s undeniable.”
He reiterated that UC, at least during his time there, had never hindered the ability to write worthwhile stories.
“President Casamento won’t ask the hard questions for you,” Mehic said. “It’s on the student journalist to produce quality work.”
Mehic said in his time at UC he loved working for the Tangerine but that goes beyond just writing articles. He enjoyed his time working with Professor Christopher, as he said that she treated everyone like professionals and gave them the freedom to experiment. He said he also enjoyed learning from Professor Orzechowski, who pushed him to chase the important stories as well as opposed to reaching for “low-hanging fruit,” as well as spending time with other current alumni of the Tangerine.
“Looking back, some of the best times of my life happened in the Tangerine room– sharing laughs with my classmates, enjoying Professor Christopher’s delicious brownies, and getting to know each other on a personal level,” Mehic said. “Enjoy it while you can.”
Debra Born, ‘19, was involved in the Tangerine every semester since she came to UC and began as the Assistant Features Editor before becoming the News Editor.
When it comes to student journalism, Born said the Tangerine is truly a trusted news source and when she first came to UC, she was amazed at the level of trust that people put in the paper.
“The UC community partly relies on the Tangerine to inform them of what is happening around campus and that alone testifies to the importance of student journalism,” she said. “On staff we added to our media skill sets by learning the basics of news reporting while providing the UC community a trusted source of information.”
Born said that the idea of freedom of the press or First Amendment rights is often challenged, even at UC. She said that these instances were the ones that brought home the importance of freedom of the press, and when the staff refused to back down and apologize for what happened, she never had more respect for the Tangerine.
“By standing up for the truth even though angry students were burning papers and taking to social media to decry their outrage because the reporting failed to align to their agendas, The Tangerine staff showed how much they valued truth and would not be swayed by their readers,” Born said. “It is not a platform to further popular agendas or current trends–it is a place where people can expect to find truth. And staff made sure the truth would be there waiting for them.”
Jacqui White also graduated in 2019 and was involved with the Tangerine from her second semester of her freshman year to the second semester of her senior year. White held three editor positions and was a staff writer when she first began.
White said she believes fully in freedom of the press and in her time with the Tangerine she covered a variety of topics. She said that sometimes the Tangerine as a whole covered topics that were not seen as “big” as other topics as well as stories that might make people uncomfortable. She said her work with the Tangerine has inspired her to search for a career in journalism.
“I think (student journalism) is important because it gives readers a student perspective on topics that they might have only gotten ‘adult’ opinions on,” White said.
She said that UC has gotten better with understanding the need for student journalism on a private college campus, even if some issues might be hard to report on.
“The UC community partly relies on the Tangerine to inform them of what is happening around campus and that alone testifies to the importance of student journalism.”
Debra Born ’19, former News Editor at the Tangerine
Keshia Clukey, ‘08, did a lot during her time at UC and one of the things was freelancing for the Tangerine, where she wrote on numerous topics.
She said that college in general has an open forum for the exchange of thought as well as to figure out where you stand on things. College is the only time in your life where your full-time job is learning, according to Clukey.
With UC being a smaller school, it is even more crucial for students to dig for the truth and to make sure their own opinion is not getting in the way. Even though it might be difficult to ask questions, it is important to still be respectful while on the job, according to Clukey.
“There’s nothing like being a reporter,” Clukey said. “Journalism is more of a lifestyle.”
Clukey said that she hopes student journalists keep their passion for journalism, while it is important.
Professor of Journalism David Chanatry said that on any campus, it is important to have media outlets that are run by students. This way they can learn the basics of reporting and they can hold people accountable.
He emphasized the importance of an institution being trustworthy. He said that President Casamento does a good job of understanding freedom of the press and the Tangerine’s overall mission. However, that does not mean that everyone understands.
“A lot of content that WPNR and UCTV produces publicizes things that the college does,” Chanatry said. “The Tangerine has a different mission: where the stories might or might not put UC in a bad spot; but that’s journalism and that’s our responsibility.”