Evan Marczynski/The AS Review
As a media consumer hungry for news, you may have noticed the multitude of student-produced publications stuffed into news racks across campus. Perhaps you’ve read the Western Front, Klipsun or the Planet, and hopefully by now you are aware of the paper you are currently holding in your hands.
But there is another publication that operates very differently from the rest: the Fairhaven Free Press, a newspaper published once a quarter by Fairhaven College.
Editor Jordan Bright said the Free Press is run entirely by students, and although he oversees the production of the staff, putting each issue together is a collaborative process involving all of the writers.
At the beginning of each quarter, the staff gets together, brainstorms story ideas and decides who will write each article. Writers are encouraged to develop the topics they would like to cover on their own with input and feedback from the rest of the staff, Bright said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really assigned stories. It’s just whatever people are really interested in, what they want to pick their brain about that particular quarter,” he said. “I make very few editorial decisions. We try to do it by consensus so there is a very cooperative spirit to it.”
The staff runs on a volunteer basis, although independent study opportunities for class credit are available.
Faculty adviser Daniel Larner said one purpose of the Free Press is to cover interesting issues with a greater sense of length and depth than you might find in newspapers that publish more frequently.
Larner said he gives students advice on their writing but he makes no decisions on the content or focus of any article.
The paper is a great venue to cover any kind of topic, regardless of whether it is a local, national or international issue, Bright said. No matter what the topic of a story is, however, he likes writers to try to tie their articles to the Bellingham community.
In last quarter’s edition, for example, Free Press writer Kyler Barton wrote a front-page article about the national debate over immigration reform. The story discussed the implications of the debate on a nationwide scale but brought in local voices, such as a Bellingham attorney specializing in immigration law, to explain how readers in Whatcom County might be affected.
“I think a lot of times a student perspective isn’t really heard from on these issues so I like to think that we’re providing a valuable voice,” Bright said.
Bright said that writers decide on their own level of involvement and responsibility. For independent study writers, the more work they take on, the more credit they usually receive, he said.
Bright mentioned that like many newspapers, the Free Press tends to include both objective reporting and opinion. He finds it important that a writer’s voice is noticeable in their writing. The paper also publishes short fiction stories and accepts submissions from readers.
Shannan Engel, a former Free Press editor and Fairhaven college graduate, wrote in an e-mail that the Free Press’ main focus was to serve as an outlet to allow staff writers the freedom to write about subjects they truly care about. It also allows students to gain journalistic experience without having to join Western’s journalism department or work on the Western Front, Engel wrote.
Engel said she was the photo editor for the Free Press from 2005 to 2007 and also served as editor during the 2006-2007 school year.
Her time on the staff was challenging but it helped her gain experience in both leading and being part of a group of writers, negotiating roles and responsibilities in a staff setting, and respecting her peers’ creativity and input, she said.
She was able to do all this thanks to the nature of the Free Press as an alternative to more traditional mainstream publications, she said.
“There are a lot of heartbreaking and tragic problems with media these days, any journalist knows that,” Engel wrote. “Alternative media faces more struggles than mainstream media, but papers like the Fairhaven Free Press help keep independent writing and art alive and published.”
Looking ahead to the future for the paper, Bright said he would like to further develop the Free Press’ Web site and attract more readers through social networking sites such as Facebook.
“I want to create an online presence for the Free Press,” he said.
Overall, he views the paper as a throwback to older styles of news publications from the early 20th century that mixed honest reporting with entertaining and creative fiction and thoughtful opinion writing.
“The great thing about the Free Press is that you’re really writing your own ticket. You sign up for what you want to do,” he said. “I almost literally publish anything as long as it’s well-written and you’re proud of it.”
For more information on making submissions or joining the staff you can contact Jordan Bright at firstname.lastname@example.org.