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A Threat to Journalistic Integrity

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2,027. That's how many of students made up the class of 2013, Ithaca College historically largest class, when we began our freshmen year.

2,027 checks made out to Ithaca College; 2,027 smiles forced at orientation; 2,027 goodbyes to parents at move-in.

2,027 reasons why Ithaca College was the right school -- but for me, there was always only one: The journalism department.

I didn't come to Ithaca College because I wanted to be a student. I came to Ithaca College because I wanted to be a journalist.

The curriculum promises active education. We aren't just told what makes a good story -- we write them. We're armed with technical skills, and the line between the classroom and the newsroom blurs every day as we apply them.

We then go deeper by learning the history, rights and responsibilities of journalists. We look for every side of the story. In exchange, we are given the entire story.

Rather than being questioned, we are encouraged to question the world around us. For me, the goal was never about my grade. The assessment of my education, I always believed, was its "real world" value. Despite the exams and assignments, I never felt like I was being tested.

Until now.

Ithaca College's president, Tom Rochon, instituted a new policy which requires student journalists seeking an interview with 84 members of administration about school policy or development first file a request through the media relations office, which will then choose the interviewee "best fit."

By introducing this policy, President Rochon has successfully gone against everything I have been taught as a journalist.

With the new system that filters not only the sources, but also their messages, it completely undermines our ability as journalists to determine who is the most appropriate person to contact.

This controlled and limited dialogue and lack of multiple perspectives diminishes our ability to act honestly and independently, while impeding ability to uphold objectivity by falsely be representing leadership with a unified voice.

This threat to journalism integrity sounds eerily similar to the efforts of Edward Bernays, who rocked the journalism world with his innovative notions of public relations and propaganda. Unlike Walter Lippmann, who not only believed that journalists were to serve as the middlemen between policymakers and the public, but also explored how, when too much access to the public is given to a single source of authority, democracy is threatened and propaganda thrives.

Lippmann inspired Noam Chomsky, whose propaganda model explains that controlling media sources and filtering their messages is one of the most influential ways institutions can promote self interests.

By this definition, the goal of President Rochon's new policy is perpetuating propaganda dressed as a poorly disguised effort to focus on -- in his words -- his "actual job."

Unfortunately for the president, I have an "actual job" as well.

I have come to believe that it is the responsibility of the journalist to serve the public by acting as a watchdog to authorities that may abuse power. I uphold the SPJ's goal to "Seek the truth and report it," and to do so while acting accountably and independently.

At the core of information gathering is six seemingly easy questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

When it comes to my journalistic identity, when I am the answer to who. My education taught me how to be a journalist with technical skills, and then what it means to be a journalist with related context. It wasn't until my involvement with the student media that are currently being threatened that I began to formulate an answer to the why.

Why am I a journalist? Because of issues like this. Because as a journalist, I have a voice and I'm going to use it. I'm part of a world that's constantly evolving and always learning. I'm in an environment where I'm not just welcome to, but encouraged to question authority and the world around me.

I had accepted that I had an impossibly long deadline for when and where this dream of becoming a "real" journalist would become a reality -- although, ideally, it would be in Manhattan, immediately after graduation.

But if this policy raised my awareness to anything, it's that it's happening here and now.

We're journalists -- not aspiring journalists, journalism students, or even student journalists. It doesn't take a diploma, a byline or inclusion on an exclusive list to identify who we are or what we do. We're defined by an underlying drive and common goal to spread the truth to create engaging conversation and informed citizens -- despite efforts to stop that.

I chose Ithaca because I needed an environment that fostered that kind of passion. I chose to be one little fish in a big pond of 2,027.

But I didn't choose journalism -- it chose me. Because whether there are 2,027 voices, 2 million voices or one overpowering voice, there are some voices that can't be silenced.

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