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Opinion

Voice advisor offers words of wisdom

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September 21, 2006

The first issue of the Student Voice this academic year is being published as Constitution Week observances wind down on campus. It is a coincidence, but a happy one.

The coincidence allows me, the faculty advisor to the student-run newspaper, to write a few words. And for the rest of the year, you probably won’t see me on this or any other page.

This is as it should be.

The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms, including freedom of the press. It is language that has seen plenty of argument over its meaning and scope, but it is language at the heart of democracy. Without the ability to express one’s viewpoints to others, democracy fails.

“Congress,” the First Amendment stipulates, “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Student Voice embodies the spirit of the First Amendment. The journalists who work for it — the students I advise — probably don’t think about the language every day. When I was an undergraduate, I didn’t think about the First Amendment either. I suppose it would be wonderful if they did, but it’s also a testament to the strength of a democracy that they don’t always have to.

They do think about it – as they should – when faced with challenges to their work or when wrestling with ethics.

However, one way the staff of the Student Voice doesn’t have to worry about First Amendment protection is in its relationship with me, the faculty advisor. Even though I am a member of the faculty and a state employee, I have no hold on what the editor or the rest of her staff does. When they come to me for advice, I often preface my answer by reminding them that I am just the advisor. They are free to take me with a grain of salt, if that much.

We wouldn’t want it any other way. You, the students, pay for the newspaper. It is yours.

The paper you pick up every week is by no means a perfect product. No newspaper is. Pick up a copy of The New York Times and don’t be surprised to find a few inches devoted to corrections or clarifications.

But I can say with confidence that the Student Voice is a good newspaper. Staff have studied the journalism textbooks, they’ve practiced the tools of the trade, they’ve taken quizzes and tests, they’ve experienced the rush of a first byline. Now they have set off on their own, creating your newspaper, while I watch from the sidelines.

Many of those involved in the Student Voice have impressed me with their intelligence and dedication. Taking on the responsibilities of a journalist, even in a nurturing environment like a university, is not an easy task. These students do it well.

This school year brings several changes to the Student Voice, such as a new Web site and subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in content and design.

Wandering around the Student Voice newsroom on a Wednesday night, watching these young journalists put the paper to bed, I sometimes yearn to be back in school doing the same thing. But that’s no longer my role: I’m just the advisor.

One hope is that more of you will engage the Student Voice – and through it the campus community – by writing letters, suggesting story ideas or perhaps contributing guest columns. By doing so you’ll be helping to shape not only your newspaper, but also your democracy.

Andris Straumanis is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies, as well as the faculty adviser to the Student Voice.