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The Campus Beat #3

Reflections on Student Media Here we go again. Another college administration is sabotaging its student newspaper.

At St. Louis University, a college board recently gave administrators approval to rescind the newspaper’s charter, which was written by students, and write a new one. College officials have stated this move will improve the overall quality of the newspaper. Students argue it is a veiled form of censorship aimed at a newspaper that has been critical of the administration and its decisions.

Examples of censorship and a “controlled press” on U.S. campuses abound. Unfortunately, these threats to free speech and a free press are littering many bucolic campuses. At times, it sadly seems that those campuses whose administrations don’t interfere with their students’ newspapers are becoming the exception and not the standard.

Here are some examples of the shenanigans at Barton County Community College in Kansas; the State University of New York at Rockland; and Oklahoma Baptist University.

The list is a long and dubious one, and the usual suspects are not limited to colleges and universities. More frequently, censorship and examples of a “closed press” are also staining high and middle school campuses. Here are two examples, one at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School in Indiana and another at Olentangy Liberty High School in Ohio.

The problems are complex but can best be captured by this two-pronged question: What exactly is a student newspaper and what is its purpose?

In middle and high schools and community colleges, students don’t always have the academic infrastructure to fully learn how to “do” journalism. At best, a few basic introductory courses are available, but those institutions rarely have the resources to teach students the in-depth classes that every journalist needs such as interviewing techniques, journalism ethics and law, various journalistic writing styles, a history of journalism, photojournalism, courses in new media, a grammar course, etc. Such courses are usually limited to four-year colleges and universities with dynamic schools of journalism or journalism degree programs. Middle and high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions must work more collaboratively to design a more seamless journalism curriculum.

Students are rarely compensated for their work, and when they are, the compensation is often inadequate. This can complicate their commitments to newspapers, especially in community colleges where students are more transitory. Faculty advisers usually assume that role in addition to their regular teaching roles. They are often compensated, but usually with “release time” or “reassigned time,” which means they teach fewer classes. The problem is that the faculty member still cannot dedicate a significant portion of his or her time to advising. Perhaps if more compensation was available for advisors, they could provide more advice. Too often, advising frequently plays second fiddle, which undermines the newspaper and its students. Also, when advisers don’t have tenure, their vulnerability to administrative retaliation becomes problematic. Ultimately, school administrators must reconsider how students and faculty advisers are compensated when producing student media. These are investments that over time could pay enormous dividends for any institution that wants to showcase its most prized assets, namely its students.

Many colleges don’t take their student newspapers seriously, so student journalists are often dismissed because they are not “real” journalists. Thus, information is withheld, interviews are shunned, and news stories are never published. Many people lose in this mix. However, if more campus officials understood the larger educational context student media falls under, this perception would change. Students are trying to become professional journalists, and with adequate resources and cooperation, they will. The best way to allow that learning to blossom is to allow students to make mistakes. Yes, this is tricky and difficult: when misinformation is disseminated in a public forum and on a mass scale, the ramifications can be damaging. And this is where much of the acrimony between school administrators and student journalists emerges. But it shouldn’t.

School administrators – deans, presidents, chancellors, principals, etc. – must understand that one of the fundamental goals of any journalist is to get their story straight, but some of America’s greatest journalists who have been trained in the best journalism schools have failed at this. The key? Students, advisers, and college officials must foster an open environment where people are comfortable admitting their mistakes, retracting inaccurate misinformation, and publishing the correct information. What context is better suited for this climate than a college campus?

Some good news is on the horizon. In Illinois, the state senate recently approved the College Campus Press Act, which essentially prevents any type of prior review from college administrators. In Texas, the Texas Student Media Board at the University of Texas recently voted to eliminate its three-decades old prior review policy. However, while many other states are moving in this direction, what is ultimately needed is federal legislation that protects all U.S. public college and university students from administrative censorship.

A rigorous, national debate among leaders in higher education is desperately needed regarding the role of student media on campuses. As more mediums proliferate, the drumbeat for this debate will only grow louder. Without such a debate, those who suffer most are students; ironically, they are the exact individuals colleges are supposed to be helping.

Chris Justice is an Assistant Professor of English & Mass Communication at The Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland, United States.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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