The Orion

College papers, including Chico State’s, are learning environments for future journalists

When I think back to my college years, the best times were spent with the friends I made while working as a reporter at Chico State’s student newspaper, The Orion, during my junior and senior years.

We spent countless hours together in the basement of Plumas Hall, the weekly paper’s headquarters. Sometimes it felt like I lived there. Oftentimes after I’d file my story, I’d hang around to make sure my editor didn’t have any final questions and watch the designers lay it out on the page—the part when the words I’d crafted came to life with the addition of a headline, subheadline and photography from the newspaper’s talented staff of shutterbugs.

It was like magic.

After deadline each Tuesday evening, a bunch of us would meet up in another basement, a downtown bar called Team Players, to celebrate that issue’s completion. We worked hard and played hard. Many weeks we’d scoop both of the professional newspapers in this town.

Back then, The Orion was a broadsheet—the wider newspaper format that’s favored by daily papers, such as The New York Times. Today, it’s a tabloid, the magazine-style format favored by alternative weeklies, including the CN&R.

I’m not sure why the students who ran the paper a few years back made the switch, but I suspect it has something to do with printing costs and the fact that the nation’s daily papers have fared far worse than their weekly counterparts in terms of declining circulation and revenues.

It’s been a rough couple of decades in the journalism business. In that time, according to a Pew Research Center report from 2016, newsrooms across the country have shed an estimated 20,000 jobs—equating to a 39 percent reduction in the workforce.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s always going to be a need for skilled journalists. That means the nation’s institutions of higher education need to sustain journalism programs that include a student-run newspaper, such as The Orion.

Last week, the campus paper published a controversial opinion piece that resulted in stories by two local TV stations, as well as a campuswide email by Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson noting that the column did not reflect the university’s values. My problem with the piece was twofold: First, it was so poorly written that it was nearly unreadable. And second, its author did not adequately back up a number of his assertions.

Fortunately, Hutchinson noted that she stands by her predecessor’s commitment to, as she put it, “ensur[e] the paper remains free from censorship or editorial constraint by University administration.” That’s the right call—even in the case of that dumpster fire write-up. After all, The Orion is a learning environment. Writers and the editors grow by crashing and burning now and again.

Meanwhile, the student paper is generating important—and well-researched and written—content as well. Case in point is a story this week about the campus’ massive backlog of deferred maintenance—tens of millions of dollars’ worth—that has the potential to jeopardize the university’s day-to-day operations.

The CN&R worked with the three reporters—The Orion’s current managing editor, Molly Sullivan, incoming Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Castillo, and this newspaper’s intern, Gabriel Sandoval—on a version for this newspaper, so that it’s widely read. Kudos to these student journalists on this piece of watchdoggery.