Eliminating Phoenix Wages Threatens Diverse Student Journalism

Members of The Phoenix's editorial board during a Wednesday publication night

Swarthmore prides itself on being a diverse and inclusive community, but this commitment is being tested by a proposal by the Student Government Organization (SGO) to eliminate the wages of the Phoenix’s editorial board as well as those of Voices. Since 1881, the Phoenix has served as Swarthmore’s weekly, independent source of campus news. Behind the scenes, our staff spends hours pitching stories, conducting interviews, and editing articles — all to provide a student-led alternative to the College’s official communications. We believe that this is an essential service.

While The Phoenix has evolved significantly since its founding, our writers and editorial boards have worked thoughtfully to publish content that reflects the varied voices and experiences of our student body. Removing compensation for our editors will have a detrimental effect on the diversity of The Phoenix and, by extension, the journalists and media professionals who will fill tomorrow’s newsrooms.

For low-income students, the choice to participate in student journalism can be a difficult one. The time and effort required to report thoughtful stories is considerable, and without compensation, many students simply cannot afford to participate.

Unsurprisingly, these divisions often emerge along racial lines. According to 2019 and 2020 College Board reports on financial aid, Black bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with more debt than any other racial group, while the median incomes for Black and Latinx families were around 60% of the median for white families. For first-generation and low-income students who face financial burdens, taking on unpaid newsroom responsibilities like those at The Phoenix, is often not a viable option.

Lack of pay at student papers like The Phoenix have consequences which reach beyond Parrish Hall. College newsrooms are pipelines to professional ones, which, today, often fail to reflect the diverse communities they report on. A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that white men were heavily overrepresented in newsrooms. The study found that, overall, the demographics of newsroom professionals are far less diverse than all U.S. workers. In a series of 2021 interviews with the Nieman Lab, multiple campus newsroom leaders identified poor or lack of pay as a root cause for the lack of diversity at their papers.

The division and precarity of our national climate today underlines the bedrock importance of independent journalism in our communities — in building understanding, trust, and — not least — informing decisions which affect all of us. Not paying our newspaper staff does more than gatekeep participation in campus journalism — it impoverishes the entire Swarthmore community by limiting the stories we’re able to tell.

We believe that diversity and equity in the media industry starts in college newsrooms like the Phoenix’s. The Student Budget Committee (SBC) should reallocate funding to compensate our editorial board, ensuring that we can continue to provide a valuable service to the Swarthmore community. By doing so, the SBC can contribute to building a better-informed and connected community while supporting the growth of a more diverse and inclusive media landscape.

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