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Journalism under attack from former allies — universities

There’s not a lot to like about media and news outlets these days.

TV news is a desert of talking heads, all of whom are trying desperately to be more controversial every second of every minute of every hour. 24-hour news networks have somehow taken over despite no one needing 24 hours of news and everyone agreeing it’s a terrible idea.

Internet media outlets are constantly battling for clicks and eyeballs with little to no regard for context or facts. Click-bait headlines invariably lead to intentionally sensationalistic, opinionated articles that feed into and off of each other to generate outrage and thus more clicks. It’s an ouroboros — a snake eating itself — of anger.

One of the last bastions of reasonable, fact-based news is newspapers. There are of course exceptions, but on the whole, newspapers have managed to maintain much more integrity than other news sources. They have accomplished this by continuing to employ journalists who use sound journalistic methods and care less about sensationalism and more about making sure what they produce has value for readers.

Here in the Bluegrass, however, the future of print journalism is under attack from a place that has in the past been a source of strength: public universities.

At the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Kernel is under attack from the university president himself. The Kernel produced an excellent, award-worthy article on a sexual-harassment case involving a former professor. The Kernel revealed that the professor was able to essentially walk away from the charges without anything on his record to affect future employment.

This excellent work has been praised by professional journalists around the state and ought to be held up by the university itself as proof it is producing high-caliber graduates capable of excellent work in the real world. Instead, the university is suing the newspaper and arguing against accountability and transparency.

It’s scary to imagine what a university might do to its journalism program if the university leadership is incapable of understanding the value of journalism to begin with.

But it may not take much imagination at all. Half an hour south of UK, Eastern Kentucky University is actually planning for the elimination of its journalism bachelor’s program.

Such a move is jaw-droppingly unbelievable when you consider the impact EKU’s journalism program has had in the state.

For decades and decades, EKU has been producing the journalists that fill newsrooms in the Bluegrass. Kentucky newspapers have depended on EKU graduates as dependable, knowledgable hires for generations.

I am a journalism graduate from EKU. Editor Emeritus John Nelson is also an EKU alum, as are numerous former reporters for the Advocate. The editors of all three of The Advocate-Messenger’s sister papers — The Winchester Sun, The Jessamine Journal and The Interior Journal — graduated from EKU.

Removing EKU as a source of journalism students is tantamount to removing the backbone from Kentucky’s newsrooms.

Yet a budget subcommittee at EKU has recommended the journalism program as one of 21 programs it thinks should be eliminated.

It would be tempting to blame this proposed cut on budget issues — universities have been getting less and less state funding for years — if it weren’t for the fact that the subcommittee did acknowledge the importance of keeping other programs around such as philosophy, physics and statistics.

Clearly, the members of the subcommittee understand it’s possible that a program can be so essential to a university’s function that it cannot be eliminated. But they ignorantly assume journalism is not one of those essential programs.

Public universities such as UK, EKU and Western Kentucky University have long served as the feeder programs that allow Kentucky newspapers to maintain their integrity and trustworthiness.

With those alliances now apparently weakening, it leaves me wondering for how much longer newspapers will be able to remain above the fray of TV ambulance-chasers and manufactured Internet rage.