The Clause is golden: Reflecting on 50 years of student reporting

A half-century ago, student journalists produced the first edition of the Clause. I wonder if they expected the paper would still be publishing 50 years later.

If their experiences were anything like mine, I doubt it. When it comes to getting the newspaper out week to week, they were probably just trying to pull everything together by deadline.

That, in essence, is just about all any of us who have served on staff have had the mental energy to focus on. Well, that and doing our jobs as well as we possibly can.

You see, it is truly a labor of love—emphasis on the labor—to make the Clause happen, and I mean that in the least clichéd sense of the phrase.

Engaging in student journalism is an act of service that is almost always thankless even as it is always, always necessary. No other publication so consistently holds the university accountable in all its various communities and activities.

This accountability is not the road to popularity, as there is truth in the old adage: You’ll know you got the story right when no one is completely happy.

When a story breaks, it is the duty of the Clause to serve only one agenda—informing students. This is not easy.

Every source a reporter or editor speaks with wants to be heard clearly, as well as represented fairly. And, if those same people are honest, they want to be presented in the best possible light.

The first two items on that list are the cornerstones of journalism and at the heart of what the paper strives for with each story. The third is its antithesis.

Accuracy and fairness are the very acts of service Clause staffers work to provide as they sandwich interviews with administrators and students and staff members between their own courses and other jobs and relationships. These are the principles that make the tough stories, ignored emails, complaints and lost weekends worthwhile.

You don’t do this work unless you love the university and are willing to be the people who make sure someone is watching and amplifying issues that must be paid attention to, even when being that someone is uncomfortable.

And that’s what makes people’s desire to be seen in the best light neither always possible nor worth pursuing in the long run. News is what happens, not what we wish had happened.

So, when the difficult and necessary conversation surrounding diversity resurfaces in our community, it is the Clause’s job to hold everyone from the president to student activists to the same standards of honest, aggressively fair representation.

When a crime happens in the community, writers must push for all possible details in service of the student body’s interests.

When tuition increases or enrollment decreases, articles must not merely explain these issues, but press the powers that be to account for why these issues are occurring.

And when those explanations are legitimate, it is the student journalist’s duty to present them as such, no matter how disappointing that may be to students reading on Wednesdays.

Like I said, Clause staffers are rarely the kings and queens of homecoming. Mostly, we’re the ones reporting on the winners.

That is important, because no other campus publication so consistently celebrates with the student body its accomplishments or grieves with its losses. Don’t forget that student comes before journalist in the title.

For 50 years, members of the Clause staff have covered the university because we, like our audience, are the university. It’s just that our assignments get read publicly and carry our names so there’s extra pressure to get them right.

In all this, there’s a certain irony to the convergences of life, not the least of which is the fact that I am writing this article.

Twenty years ago, I was hired on at the Clause as the features editor. I spent the next two and a half years working in the same trenches I’m now helping my staff navigate as the acting faculty adviser.

When I was on staff, we covered a gambit of stories from the lightest columns on the foibles of Les Femmes to the wins and losses of sports teams to the heaviest issues, including the death of a good friend. None of it was easy.

In some ways, thinking about this has reminded me how all of us who have worked on the paper since 1965 have merely been building the next piece of the bridge for those crossing just behind us.

On the other hand, I have to imagine the current Clause staff is much like all those stretching back to the very first group who took on the job because we all, like many students, care about this place.

We just care about all of it.