The New Alternative Press on Campus

By Knull, Morgan N. | The World and I, February 2001 | Go to article overview

The New Alternative Press on Campus


Knull, Morgan N., The World and I


"If it bleeds, it leads," is a basic, if jaded, rule of journalism.

But campus journalists, especially those voicing conservative opinions, have discovered a different lesson: Free speech can be costly. In 1999, the Student Press Law Center tracked 193 cases of media censorship at American colleges, with the incidents ranging from the suppression of stories by administrators to outright paper theft.

Although federal court decisions during the past decade consistently have struck down speech codes and discriminatory student fee allocations, university authorities and would-be student censors seem unwilling to abandon the urge to control the open flow of information and ideas. In their 1998 book The Shadow University, civil libertarians Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate declared that "the theft of student publications at universities is pandemic."

Despite the obstacles they often encounter, conservative student papers today are published on scores of campuses, including such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the University of Chicago.

Author Dinesh D'Souza, who was a founder of the Dartmouth Review in 1980, says that publications like the Review have altered the political landscape of higher education. "They have given conservatives on campus a social, intellectual, and political base, providing a sense that they are not alone," he explains. "And the more successful papers are able to shift, however imperceptibly, the center of debate to the right. It makes conservative views more respectable."

During the 1950s and '60s, a number of conservative and libertarian publications sprang up at colleges. Many later folded once their founders departed campus. Others evolved in editorial philosophy or focus. The Badger Herald, started in 1969 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, was founded by conservatives who had grown disillusioned with an established paper that routinely editorialized in favor of the Cuban revolution. Today, the Badger Herald still is published but has jettisoned its conservative identity.

Another 1960s-era publication was the Alternative at Indiana University, which later migrated to Washington, D.C., and now has become a national magazine known as the American Spectator.

REAGAN THE CATALYST

The arrival of Ronald Reagan on the national scene served as an inspiration for a new generation of conservative campus journalists. Early desktop publishing software made it feasible for papers to publish on shoestring budgets, and endorsements by nationally known leaders extended credibility to the efforts of young conservatives.

In 1979, University of Chicago students Tod Lindberg and John Podhoretz teamed up to launch Counterpoint magazine at their campus. Although Counterpoint was fashioned as a serious journal that eschewed attention-getting stunts, it still encountered difficulty raising funds to pay for its printing. Lindberg and Podhoretz, now the editors, respectively, of Policy Review magazine and the New York Post's editorial page, turned to conservative organizations in New York and Washington, D.C., for financial support.

The following spring, in a different region of the country, the Dartmouth Review was born. By their own descriptions, the founders were enfants terribles who had grown weary of liberalism's assault on Dartmouth tradition and Western civilization.

"It wasn't so much that the Dartmouth faculty lacked style; it had declared war on style," Benjamin Hart would later reflect in the book Poisoned Ivy. "The entire scene represented a spiritual and moral decay that began to take hold in the early seventies, when a certain political ethos, originating in the sixties, became institutionalized." The Review represented a challenge to this ascendant culture.

With the emergence of Counterpoint and the Review, as well as similar publications at other institutions, the nascent conservative student press was brought under the patronage of the Institute for Educational Affairs (IEA), which had been established in 1978. …

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