In the spring of 2015, The Campus Citizen, IUPUI’s monthly print newspaper, was in disarray. The editorial staff were bickering, writers weren’t meeting deadlines and we had no idea if anyone was even picking up copies off the newsstand. No leadership. No motivation. No metrics.
It’s tough to last more than a few weeks in that environment. But we stretched it out until the end of the semester. Then, we decided to do something about it. In March, fellow journalism student David Schroeder and I started with this crazy idea that in 2015, having a print-only student paper was the equivalent of driving a horse-and-buggy carriage on the highway. Except the wheels were falling off our buggy and we were the horses.
Over the summer, we put our heads together with a team of devoted volunteers from the spring semester (I like to call them the IUPUI Avengers of student journalism). I started building our website so we had a place to publish our stories during the upcoming semester. Schroeder, as the new editor-in-chief, began recruiting writers, talking to student organizations, and looking for ways to get funding. Casey Kenworthy began reaching out to advertisers, Keegan Rammel covered a 16-hour music festival, and Elizabeth Cotter started planning out the sports calendar for the year.
Rob Hunt, Leighann Strollo, Bre Cooper, Shay Henderson, and Coleton Emmel just to name a few wrote their asses off. We all pitched in. We did it on our own time, with no compensation but the reward of producing good stories. We built something from scrap metal and duct tape.
I had few expectations for The Campus Citizen when we started. The only things I did expect were that were we would publish content weekly and we would cover stories with integrity. The first is simple enough, but I should add that the second includes a few different layers: our editorial staff agreed we would not publish Buzzfeed listicles, personal essays found on sites like The Odyssey, or anything that remotely resembled clickbait. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these sorts of articles (well, except maybe the last one…), but we wanted to do something different, something we could be proud of on our resumes.
So we did. We covered the miserable state of IUPUI parking and the possible corruption behind selling passes. We interviewed nationally recognized artists at music festivals, recitals, and concerts. We published an in-depth expose of the IUPUI Student Government citing a case of nepotism, poor record keeping, and questionable use of student funds.
To no one’s surprise, we made some enemies; but it felt good. It felt like we were doing our jobs, the jobs we had volunteered for and spent countless hours on without hoping to be paid for the work. We also made a lot of friends, with journalism professors, museum curators, student organizations, local businesses, artists and athletes. We went out into our city and brought stories back to IUPUI students on their computers and phones.
During the course of our work our staff grew close to each other. Our weekly editorial meetings became a smattering of witty (and some not-so-witty) banter mixed with brainstorming story ideas. We produced a podcast where we debated sports, movies, and the future of video games. We were the uninhibited newsroom: loyal to no advertising interests and willing to try anything. Of course we were broke, but that never stopped us from publishing.
Reflecting on our first year being totally online, The Campus Citizen built an audience from the ground-up, created a functional website, more than doubled our number of contributors, and covered everything from student protests to local film festivals. From the ashes of print, we built something sustainable for IUPUI’s journalism and media students of the future.
My time at The Campus Citizen was my proudest and most rewarding experience at IUPUI. Now after just getting started, it has come to a bittersweet end. However, I rest easy knowing the fate of IUPUI’s only independent student media outlet is in the most capable of hands with some of its founding editors and staff coming back in the fall. You all know exactly what you’re doing. Keep pushing.
When I think back on how The Campus Citizen began, I’ll remember our 10+ hour production days and the people that worked them. I’ll remember coming together as a team of journalists trying to do something different. We pushed each other. We did something great: we built a newsroom.
Special thanks to Mark Haab, our faculty advisor and mentor. Without you allowing us to take the lead, step on some toes and pretty well do whatever the hell we saw fit, we wouldn’t be what we have become.
Benjamin Cooley was the deputy editor and a founding member of TheCampusCitizen.com. He graduated from IUPUI’s Department of Journalism in 2015 with a bachelor’s in journalism.