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Universities are a training ground where students grow through experiences in whatever field they’re aspiring to enter. Student media organizations on Central Washington University’s campus are learning some of the pitfalls of their particular field.

The CWU student newspaper The Observer published an editorial Wednesday detailing its frustrations with several departments on campus requiring student journalists to have their questions pre-approved by department heads before giving faculty and staff permission to go ahead with the interview.

Student media groups were gathered in Lind Hall Wednesday night, creating posters and getting ready for a demonstration Thursday.

“We’re hoping to just get our point across,” said Cassandra Hays, the Observer’s editor-in-chief. “Just that we’re serious about not sending the questions. We just want them to stop doing that basically, because it’s not cool.”

Typically, news outlets do not send questions to subjects ahead of time. In the editorial written by Hays, Mariah Valles, Nicholas Tucker, Nick Jahnke and Austin Lane, the group illustrate why:

“One of the reasons is because it prevents us from getting genuine answers from our sources. If, for example, interview questions were sent in regarding a sensitive subject, answers from administrators may be formed in advance with a focus on public image over truth.”

Hays said her publication doesn’t consider that practice ethical, and said they’ve met with the departments on several occasions to discuss the matter.

“We’ve discussed the fact we’re not comfortable sending questions and we’re never going to do it and they continue to push back on us,” Hays said.

Vice President of Public Affairs Kremiere Jackson, who attended one of the meetings with student media in April, said she could require departments to abide by a uniformed media policy, but sees it as a learning opportunity for student journalists.

“If you think of the institution as lots of different businesses, they all have different protocols,” Jackson said. “Are there different departments that have different rules that may not seem fair? Yes probably so. At the end of the day, I don’t know anyone on this campus that’s trying to obstruct or keep a reporter from reporting on anything that’s going on here.”

The Observer is a large class and draws a diverse group of students, some more organized and passionate about student journalism than others. Jackson said one of the problems that prompted these meetings and policies were student journalists knocking on office doors at the last minute before their deadline with little focus or insight on what their story was about.

“We were getting individuals coming and wanting to do an interview and not having a clear idea of what their questions were, not really knowing where they wanted to go with the story,” Jackson said.

Hays said The Observer has used that as a teaching opportunity to get reporters to send the scope and context of their story to potential interview subjects, but sending questions ahead of time is crossing a line.

“So we decided to publish that editorial and stage a protest just to get our voices across,” Hays said.

Hays said shortly after the editorial was published, The Observer has received a lot of support on social media and from the community, and at the end of the day they just want to be treated on the same level as professional media.

“Realistically we just want to be treated like real journalists,” Hays said. “We try to hold ourselves to the same standards as real journalists, and we’ve actually had someone in athletics say they wouldn’t treat the Daily Record the same way they treat us. They wouldn’t require questions from the Daily Record, and we just want to be on the same level.”


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