Preserving student media: accountability’s last stand

Katya Zakar | Photo Editor


Picture this: it’s 11 p.m. on a Friday, and you have 16+ hours of newspaper production on Saturday and Sunday. Suddenly, you receive a late draft and open it. There are no sources, the tone is off, the writer seems to not know what quotations are, and everything will have to be redone before it goes to print. 

Here at The Mercury, if you don’t suddenly develop an anxiety disorder upon entering management, then you must have nerves of steel. This job is endless, heart-wrenching stress and nauseating social conundrums day in and day out. So why would anyone be insane enough to choose this line of work? Why is it that I find it so rewarding? 

When I was younger, I had an infantile fantasy that I would grow up to be a private investigator. Of course, I also wanted to avoid car ownership and travel the world — both completely incompatible — but I wouldn’t let that stop me. I had dreams of being just like Marvel’s Jessica Jones: stopping bad guys, asking questions that no one else wanted to and delivering justice by shining light on things that “the mainstream” didn’t want to confront.  

I was stupid. Comic book heroes aren’t real and vigilantism certainly isn’t anything to aspire to. Luckily, just as I moved from adolescence into young adulthood, I found a new outlet for these investigative dreams: journalism. Reporting is the perfect excuse to be prodding around in private places — it’s basically getting paid to be nosy. And it’s critical in places like college campuses, where students — who are generally young and poor — are very easily taken advantage of by the powers that be. And when it comes down to it, who except students is going to keep some of these university administration members accountable? 

Forgive my weird populist ideals, but there is another reason college journalism is so rewarding: it is a bastion of old school freedom in a country where the corporate press gets less and less free by the year. According to Reporters Without Borders or RSF, the United States currently has a press freedom index of 45/180. RSF rates the U.S. somewhat low for a few key reasons: while the government does not directly censor the press, in the past few decades, local media has died as national media has become more politically polarized. And most concerningly, “many popular news outlets are owned by a handful of wealthy individuals.” 

You want to know what is so great about college newspapers, in my eyes? They are one of the very few places in this country where hyper-local journalism has continued to thrive, where media is still accessible and responsive to the actual concerns of everyday people. College media is an island of accountability in a sea of national-level newspapers that are so out of touch they cannot truly care about their readers. 

This is what is so special about The Mercury. If you have a problem with a story, you can write a letter to the editor, and there’s a good chance it will get published. If you have an issue with our editorial practices, you can email our Editor-in-Chief, and she will sit down with you and talk things through. We are not a brick wall like large-scale newspapers. We are students, and we serve students. 

When I first joined this organization, I entered every pitch meeting terrified. The upper management was strict and critical, and I felt I had to fight an uphill battle just to prove my story ideas were good enough. Now, I’m the one who criticizes writers, and I understand why my mentors did it. Because they cared — not just about the publication, but also about holding its members to a high standard, making sure we are always pushing to be better. And we will continue to push to be better journalists, like we always have despite the many setbacks along the way. 

Anyone who has worked at a college newspaper is familiar with the eternal problem of the revolving door. Just as one editorial team becomes fully competent and the best at journalism they can be, it’s over, because they’ve graduated. Some years this is a terrifying transition, where a few ingenues are left to fend for themselves, embarrassing themselves and floundering around journalistic practices as they try to scrape by. 

But it’s not always so hopeless. This year’s management team has passed the torch to a group of extremely intelligent, experienced and competent replacements who are about to begin a brand-new era for the publication. And as outgoing management from 2024, we are incredibly proud of what we’ve done, and we are so excited to see what The Mercury does in the future. 

Why would anyone be insane enough to choose this line of work? Because regardless of how stressful or anxiety-inducing college journalism may be, it is an enriching and transformative experience. This job has taken me through the best and worst times of my college experience and fundamentally changed the person I am and the way I see the world. I can attribute most of my values, political beliefs and professional aspirations directly to lessons I learned and people I met at The Mercury

To all new management members: good luck, and we all look forward to discovering what unique neuroses you develop in your time with The Mercury


  • I will miss your articles Mr Sierputowski. I always found them insightful and intelligent.
    Good luck to you in your future endeavors.

  • As the Managing Editor, your time coming to a close at the Mercury, I would say is their loss and the world’s gain. Good luck to you Jack. Great picture!

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