Research (Vol. 58): The College Newsroom amid COVID

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A Statistical Assessment of Advisers and their work in College Newsrooms in 2020

Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver, EdD
Florida International University

Elizabeth Smith, EdD
Pepperdine University

Jody Kleinberg Biehl, MA
University at Buffalo

Research Associate: Lillian A. Abreu, MSW
Florida International University

Abstract: This research updates and explores the role and jobs of college newsroom advisers, the context of their work, and the newsrooms they advise. Using a survey (N=332) of student media advisers, the data provide important understandings for college journalism issues that have emerged, or re-emerged, in the past year: COVID-19, diversity, and prior review. Responses show, despite campus closures and some declining advertising revenues, COVID-19 did not halt the work of the vast majority of college newsrooms. On the contrary, data from this survey combined with national trends point to the growing importance of college news media across the nation. As local news outlets decrease, college newsrooms are filling the void.  Open-ended responses revealed anxieties among advisers about how the pandemic would affect newsrooms in the coming academic years, especially regarding budgets and advertising revenue. For the first time, this research collected information on race/ethnicity. Participants were mostly white, although community colleges had the largest group of advisers of color. Responses reveal that 87% of advisers report that they do not edit newsroom content, although responses raise questions about the role that faculty-guided class work plays in newsrooms and how advisers define prior review. Compared to past research, adviser salaries have increased in the past five years and 62% of advisers hold either a faculty or staff title. Overall, salaries have increased 12% among advisers since 2014.

Keywords: college media, student newsrooms, student journalism, newsroom diversity, COVID-19, prior review


No single story has defined college newsrooms, professional journalism, and the world quite like COVID-19. The pandemic forced campus closures across the United States in the spring of 2020 and some college campuses, like those in California, continue to remain closed into 2021. Yet, most (94 %) of college newsrooms have continued to produce, according to the College Media Association’s annual benchmarking survey in 2020. Yet, that production brought change: 16% of newsrooms shifted to online only and 42% reduced their print frequency (College Media Association 2020).

While budgets for many student news outlets may have hung in the balance of COVID-19 closures, college newsrooms have emerged as an even more critical source of news for those in the campus communities and for those in their local communities. The New York Times examined the growing prominence of college newsrooms in communities that have lost their local newspaper (Nierenberg 2020). In the Times’ reporting, Hadar Harris, director of the Student Press Law Center, described student journalists as “playing an incredibly important role in this moment” of COVID-19 (Nierenberg 2020).

In addition to COVID-19 changes, the CMA 2020 survey highlighted two key, underexplored issues in college media today: diversity and the question of prior review.

Data from this study were collected as most college newsrooms operated remotely. COVID-19, alone, didn’t just affect college newsrooms in 2020. The pandemic provided the context for several issues that gained energy, attention or infamy in 2020 and 2021: protests for racial equity, the Presidential Election of 2020, the Capitol Insurrection and subsequent impeachment by the House of Representatives of Donald Trump.

This study seeks to better understand the place of college media advisers and college newsrooms in the journalism landscape and their ongoing challenges as well as new challenges that have emerged. It seeks to offer a statistical overview of the state of college media and to serve as a source of reference for those looking to monitor trends within published student journalism.

Literature Review

The journalism industry as a whole has faced renewed scrutiny over the past few years for a lack of diversity. In 2018, the Columbia Journalism Review characterized the lack of diversity, particularly among newspaper staffs as having “failed spectacularly” (Arana 2018) at matching the racial and ethnic composition of their communities. These discussions have also emerged in college newsrooms. In the summer of 2020, Marissa Martinez, the first Black woman ever to lead The Daily Northwestern in the newspaper’s 140-year history at Northwestern University, described her own doubt as to whether journalism education and student newsrooms valued diversity: “Knowledge of data journalism or FOIA-filing can take precedence over a desire to reshape newsroom values in an interview setting” (Arana 2018).

While there is almost no data on the diversity of college newsrooms, college newsrooms have been known to follow professional newsrooms in this regard (Hussain and Bista 2017). In a 2020 study of student media advisers from across professional and scholastic journalism organizations, 93% identified as white (Smith et al. 2020). This ongoing lack of representation has ripple effects across student newsrooms.

In September 2020, a mass resignation of 43 staff members at New York University’s Washington Square News raised questions about advisers, diversity and representation in student newsrooms (Robertson 2020). In that case, students accused their newly-hired adviser of homophobic and racist behavior. This situation was made more precarious by the adviser’s role as then-president of College Media Advisers. One of the students who resigned told The New York Times, “we realized we were not comfortable working in an environment like this” (Robertson 2020). This raised important questions among CMA’s membership about the organization’s credibility on issues of diversity and inclusion; more broadly this raised important concerns about representation among students and advisers in student newsrooms.

Prior review also remains a delicate topic in college media. It’s a topic that is often glossed over at conferences and in academic discussions. Part of the problem is semantic. What defines simple words like coaching, teaching, helping, directing and editing? What, therefore, definitively counts as prior review?  Professors often make suggestions on drafts of academic work; often this occurs in journalism classes that feed student media. Some private universities require advisers to read all student work before it gets published. Is this prior review? Is teaching different from coaching?

There is no clear definition across college media and there has never been an in-depth study as to what constitutes prior review. The CMA Code of Ethics states, “Faculty, staff and other non-students who assume advisory roles with student media must remain aware of their obligation to defend and teach without censoring, editing, directing or producing” (College Media Association 2013). But what separates teaching from directing? Is grading and offering suggestions on academic work editing? The CMA Code also says it “should not be the media adviser’s role to modify student writing or broadcasts, for it robs student journalists of educational opportunity and could severely damage their rights to free expression” (College Media Association 2013). Yet, often, by offering suggestions, as most professors do with academic work, students improve. Rather than getting robbed, they get richer.

CMA established the guidelines to protect students whose voices and editorial freedom are key to the success of student media. At times, over-zealous advisers or administrators, worried about the image of the college or university, have certainly tried to temper student voices.  In an article in Inside Higher Ed, Kovacs revealed more than 20 advisers who said they felt administrative pressure to control what students published (Kovacs 2016).  Then there is the case of private universities, such as Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, which has full editorial control over student media (Koh, Rieth, and Johnson 2018). The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education keeps a list of universities, including Liberty, that have tried to suppress, censor or edit out student voices (FIRE n.d.).

Lack of clarity often leaves advisers in an uncomfortably ambiguous role. To further complicate the discussion, research over the past two decades lauds applying “the teaching hospital” method to journalism programs (Incollingo 2017; Smith, Rothfield, and Glaisyer 2011). In this model, students learn in real time as they produce meaningful journalism that serves the university and broader community. “Journalism programs should not limit themselves to teaching journalists, but should produce copy and become laboratories of innovation as well” (Anderson, Glaisyer, Smith & Rothfeld, 2011, para. 2). Producing such high-quality, impactful journalism often requires the sort of editing, polishing, rewriting and collaboration that occurs daily in professional news organizations. Additionally, as local news sites suffer across the nation (Stites 2018), student newspapers are often stepping in to fill the void (Lowe 2020). This is elevating the unique and necessary role that student journalism and student journalists serve in communities. It also makes the necessity for skills, legal and ethics training even more urgent in the college newsroom environment. Media scholar Mira Lowe characterized this shift as one that is ripe with opportunities for college journalists, “As we enter a new decade, expect this to be a golden one for emerging journalists as they report, write, produce, and disseminate stories like no other generation” (Lowe 2020).

Methodology and Sample                                       

In fall 2020, the link to an anonymous Qualtrics survey was sent to the 685 members of the College Media Association, and 332 responses came back, for a return rate of 48.6%. The survey contained 53 questions relating to the role, responsibilities, salary, title, rank, education level, tenure status, workload, reporting responsibilities and diversity of college media advisers.

Frequencies were run on all questions, as well as cross tabulations on selected ones to pinpoint trends and focus on issues of concern, such as salary, tenure, diversity etc. A final, open-ended question solicited comments and feedback from respondents.

This survey is the latest in a series that, since its inception in 1984, has provided the only consistent source of longitudinal data about college media advisers and student media. It has proven useful to advisers negotiating contracts, salaries and roles, administrators evaluating their news outlets and faculty and researchers studying trends in college media.  The survey is conducted every four to five years and has traditionally had two parts, one focused on the adviser, and a second on student media outlets, with questions on financial, organizational and demographic data. In 2014, the survey asked 31 questions about advisers and 48 questions about student media.

This year, with the upheaval felt by COVID-19, the survey was streamlined into one questionnaire that focused largely on the role of the adviser. Most of the questions from previous years also appeared, to ensure continuity and to enable accurate comparisons to prior years. Questions about diversity, COVID-19 and prior review were included for a total of 53 questions. In future years, the survey will return to the broader question set, but this year, with the enormous changes COVID-19 and remote learning foisted upon student media, it would have been too difficult to get accurate or meaningful statistics on questions relating to student media finances, organization and output. In the comments section, several advisers expressed fears for the future of their news organizations, with some worrying their media would either disappear or remain digital-only. This will provide important data for the 2025 survey.

In this survey, 52% of participants came from four-year public schools, while 33% came from four-year private schools and 15% came from community colleges. A majority—82%—of advisers are between 36 and 65 years old and 10% are older than 65. Most—88%—have had professional media experience, while a full 12% of advisers have no professional media experience before becoming an adviser.  That is up by 5% from the 2014 survey. On the other hand, 18% had more than 23 years of professional media experience, mirroring the 2009 survey. The survey garnered responses from advisers from 39 states, with advisers from 11 states either not responding or not being represented. The 2014 survey featured responses from advisers in all 50 states.


Five items on the survey sought information related to COVID-19. The vast majority of participants (93%) indicated that their newsrooms continued to publish during the spring 2020 shutdown (see Table 1). Of those schools that continued to publish, 14% were two-year colleges, 52% were four-year public colleges, and 35% were four-year private colleges.

Diminished advertising revenue was a significant concern for college media outlets during the spring shutdown. Fifty percent of participants indicated they lost $5,000 or less. At the other end of the spectrum, 18% lost $40,000 or more. Participants indicated that 14% of college newsrooms lost between $5,000 and $9,999; 8% lost between $10,000 and $19,999; and 5% lost between $30,000 and $39,999.

This loss of revenue experienced in the spring created a treacherous future for some newsrooms. In the open-ended question, one participant described a bleak future:

Due to loss of revenue and lack of print product our reach and status in the community has been diminished. Real possibility to see operations reduced or eliminated in very near future. Students do not see digital work as unique and as worth their effort like the printed version.

Still another described support during COVID-19, even from outside the institution: “The FCC has been most considerate to college radio stations during college shutdowns of campus or buildings where stations are located.”

With regard to compensation for lost advertising revenue, participants indicated that only 6% of colleges and universities provided emergency funding to help student media; 94% did not provide any such funding (see Table 2). This was comparable across types of school: two-year college (no schools provided funding), four-year public (92% did not provide funding), and four-year private (96% did not provide funding). As a result of lost funds, 26% of participants had to lower stipends for students in college newsrooms as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown; 74% did not have to lower stipends. Size of school appeared to be a factor in whether or not additional types of funding were provided, with schools between 20,001 and 25,000 enrollment having the largest percentage (13%).

The majority (82%) of advisers also reported that their university had not lost any media outlets in the past year. Advisers could write in the specific media outlets that had closed in the past five years. Responses included 10 radio stations, 9 print newspapers, 7 TV stations, and 6 yearbooks.


Understanding diversity among college media advisers continues to be an important topic. Prior surveys did not collect information regarding racial or ethnic diversity, so there is no past data for comparison. This survey sought to collect information that would better illuminate dimensions of diversity among college media advisers, who help lead college newsrooms and teach college journalists. Of the participants who completed the item about race/ethnicity 87.3% of the participants self-reported as white.

Hispanic or Latinx was the next largest group with 5% of participants. Black or African American participants followed as the third largest group with 4% of the participants. Asian participants were the fourth largest group with 2%.  The group categorized as “other” came in as the fifth largest group with 1%. Alaska Native or Native American was the smallest group represented with .003%, or one participant (see Table 3).

College media advisers represent a range of professional and faculty positions. Findings from this research show that 28.8% percent of advisers have tenure. Another 33.6% do not have tenure and 37.7% are in positions that do not offer tenure (indicated as N/A).

White participants were fairly evenly distributed across tenure options: 30.4% had tenure, while 31.6% did not have tenure and another 37.9% are in positions that did not offer tenure. For Hispanic or Latinx advisers who participated in the study, 31.3% have tenure, 50.0% do not have tenure, and 18.8% are in positions that do not offer tenure. For Black or African American participants, 15.4% had tenure, 46.2% did not, and 38.5% were in positions that did not offer tenure. For Asian participants, 40% did not have tenure, and 60% were in positions that did not offer tenure. For those who indicated their ethnicity as “other,” 50% did not have tenure, and another 50% were in positions that did not offer tenure. Finally, only one participant reported ethnicity as Alaska Native or Native American; that participant was in a position that did not lead to tenure.

Cross-tabulations provided showed how racial ethnic diversity was represented across types of college. Among community college advisers (n=46), 84.8% were white, 10.9% were Hispanic or Latinx, 2.2% were Alaska or Native American, and 2.2% were Black. Advisers at four-year public universities represented the largest group in the sample (n=160). At these schools, 86.9% were white, 5.6% were Black, 5.0% were Hispanic or Latinx, 1.9% were Asian, and 0.6% were indicated they were in the “other” category. At four-year private colleges (n=102), 89.2% were white. Black, Hispanic or Latinx, and “other” each had 2.9%, and Asian advisers were 2%. Four-year public schools had the largest percentage of every group, except one. The group “other” had 75% at four-year private universities and one at a four-year public college. Meanwhile, of white advisers, 51.3% worked for public four-year universities, as did 69.2% of Black advisers, 50% of Latinx or Hispanic advisers, 60% of Asian advisers.

Salary for journalism advisers may be the result of complex factors: location of the school, job responsibilities, highest degree earned, and school ranking. According to the results of this survey, only two Black advisers reported an annual salary of $55,000 or more. Only four Hispanic or Latinx advisers reported an annual salary of $45,000 or more. White advisers, the majority of the participants, reported advising salaries that were more evenly distributed across the wage categories from $25,000 or less to $80,001 or more. All participants who indicated their ethnicity as Asian reported an annual salary between $40,000 and $70,000.

Prior Review

Prior review remains a delicate topic in college media. As such, it calls out for more examination. Many of the facts collected in this survey offer a mixed and at times confusing portrait of how much input college media advisers have over the content published in student media. For instance, 87% of advisers said they do not edit student media content before publication, while 13% said they do. Of those who edit, 22.9% are from four-year public schools, while 68.6% are from private four-year schools. Of those who say they edit, 57.1% work at schools with less than 7,500 students, while only 6.8% work at schools with over 25,000 students.

Yet, despite the high numbers who say they don’t edit, 51% of advisers said their student media published articles produced in classes separate from the student newspaper. Those articles have, presumably been graded and perhaps even edited, by a professor as part of the academic process. Of those who use content from classes outside the student newsroom, 50% are from four-year public schools, while 35.8% are from four-year private and 13% are from two-year public schools. Of those not using content produced in classes outside the student newsroom, 51% are four-year public schools, 33.1% are four-year private schools and 15% are two-year public schools. In an open-ended survey item one adviser described how budget cuts could push the student newsroom to change its model to a classroom lab:

Things are in flux for the newspaper I advise. It went online-only this fall and our printing. Budget was cut, but this could be temporary… We have not previously treated the newspaper as a lab, but are considering this, as well as internships. We do not currently pay students anything, and are considering paid internships.

The statistics practically reverse when advisers are queried if they make suggestions to student journalists. Eighty-nine percent of advisers say they regularly make suggestions to students about coverage as part of their job. Of those who make suggestions about coverage, 50% are from four-year public schools, 34.6% are from four-year private schools and 14.6% are from two-year public schools.

The numbers drop by 29% when the question shifts to the word “coach.” A full 40% of advisers say they don’t “regularly coach” students in their work before publication, while 60% say they do. Of those who regularly coach students, 43.9 % are four-year public school advisers, 38.6% are private four-year school advisers and 19.5% are advisers at two-year public schools. Of those who regularly coach students, 67.1% have tenure, while 32.9% do not

Of those who don’t coach students, 57.1 percent have tenure, while 42.95% do not.

The numbers shift again, when the query focuses on helping students get in touch with sources. Overall, 64% of the advisers queried said they did not do this, while 36% do offer help.

The Adviser’s Role, Degrees and Tenure

The role of the adviser remains varied on college campuses, with 29% of those surveyed holding tenured faculty positions, including full professor rank and/or serving as department chairs. A larger number, (38%) hold lecturer or staff positions. Some of those positions are connected to non-academic departments, like student affairs, that do not lead to tenure. This exactly mirrors responses in 2014. An additional 33% of advisers do not yet have tenure. Of those with tenure, 69% have been at the university 10 or more years. Of those without tenure, 44% have been at the university more than 10 years and 12.2% have been working without tenure for 20 or more years.

Advisers with tenure mostly (72%) work at four-year schools, with 39% at four-year public schools and 33% at four-year private schools. Fewer, but still a significant number  (28%) of community college advisers have tenure. Of those without tenure, 85% are at either four-year public (56%) or four-year private schools (29%). Most (57%) of those in positions not leading to tenure are in four-year public schools, while 37% are in private and 6% are in community colleges.

More than 62% have either a staff or faculty title, while 38% have both types of title. That’s a shift from 2014, when 42% had both, but it remains more than in 2009, when only 30% of advisers held more than one title. For those with faculty titles, most (71%) are assigned to journalism or communications programs. An additional 10% are assigned to English. Of those assigned to English, 61% teach at community colleges. Four-year public universities and four-year private colleges are more likely to assign faculty serving as advisers to journalism, communication of other departments. Several advisers report being assigned to other university divisions including: the Honors College, digital or visual studies, mass media and humanities/social science. One faculty member who works as a media adviser reports also serving as campus minister.

Of those advisers who are not faculty, but teach, 59% are part of journalism or communications programs, 29% are in “other” departments and 13% are assigned to English programs. This is slightly different from 2014, when 66% were in journalism or communications programs, 13% were in English. Some of the “other” departments listed include theology, religion and interdisciplinary, digital media and none.

Time spent as an adviser is split, with 55% of advisers saying it takes up 50-100% of their time, while 45% say it takes less than half their time (see Table 5). One fourth are full-time advisers. Almost all (94%) advisers work on a semester system, while 6% work on quarters. This is similar to past years. Although the survey tried to query teaching hours to assess average course loads, the question—which asked about semester hours—confused many advisers and did not yield significant results.

Advisers spent a vastly different amount of time with their student media, but 41% of advisers say they spend less than 20 hours a week with student journalists. About the same number (42%) say they spend 21-40 hours with students, while 3% spend 41-50 hours a week. On the opposite spectrum, 4% spend 51 or more hours per week with student journalists and 1% spend more than 61 hours.

Of those without faculty titles, position names differ widely by school, but 43% use either publications/media director or media adviser. Other names include director of campus activities and student media, faculty adviser, department chair, director of digital media, and director of student media.

Most advisers (85%) have a master’s degree or higher. The number of advisers with master’s degrees slipped from 59% in 2014 to 52% in 2020. The number of advisers holding doctoral degrees, however, has steadily risen in the past decade. In 2009, it was 21%, in 2014, it inched up to 23% and today it is at 33%. This could also be a reflection of fewer faculty and staff positions across colleges and universities (Aldeman 2021).

Of those with tenure, 69% had been at the university 10 or more years. Of those without tenure, 44% had been at the university more than 10 years, and 12.2% had been working without tenure for 20 or more years. Unfortunately, 27% of advisers without tenure say they are also working without a fixed contract renewal date. This is a trend worth watching, as it is significantly higher than the 19% in 2014 and three times higher than the 9% in 2009.

In an open-ended item, one participant responded about the pressures of job security and advising student media: “The legal liabilities of advising student media is an unspoken risk, as is the risk to one’s faculty status given the possibilities of student behavior in pursuit of independent journalism.” Another described the loss of tenure because of institutional changes: “It’s very sad that all the work many of us have done in our classrooms, as well as to earn tenure and promotion, have been all for nothing. And no one is interested in reporting on this.”

Some list advising as part of their teaching duties, while others work on an adjunct basis by semester. For advisers working on renewable contracts, renewal dates vary widely, but 27% work on 9-month contracts, while 16% have 10-month contracts and 20% have 12-month contracts. This is a more than 50% shift from 2009, when 46% of advisers had 12-month contracts and a 12% drop from 2014.

Most advisers (67%) split their time between teaching and advising. Of those with split duties, 52-57% at all schools (four and two-year) get teaching release for advising, with advising counting as one or more courses.

One fourth receive no release and no compensation for their advising duties. Of those, 30.3 % are at four-year public schools, while 25% are at four-year private schools and 15% are at community colleges. A small number (7%) of advisers receive an extra stipend for advising in addition to course release. Additionally, 13% do not get course release, but get paid extra for advising.               


Salaries of full-time advisers vary from less than $35,000 to more than $80,000, but all salaries have increased since 2014 (see Table 6). Overall, 92% of advisers make more than $40,000, a 12% jump from 2014. Three quarters (76%) make more than $50,000, and 55% make more than $60,000. In 2014, 66% made more than $40,000 and 40% earned over $60,000. On the high end today, 36% of advisers make more than $70,000, while 19% make more than $80,000. Those higher salaries are between 6% and 10% higher than six years ago. Only 5% of advisers report making less than $35,000, which is 4% fewer than in 2014. Of those making more than $70,000, 46% had some teaching duties attached to their jobs. Advisers assigned to English had consistently lower pay rates, with none making more than $75,000. Those assigned to journalism or communications departments did better, with 35% making more than $75,000. An additional 28% of those making $75,000 or more are not assigned to university departments, while 25% are in departments other than journalism, communications or English.

Four-year private schools pay advisers both the most and the least. But overall, only four advisers reported making $35,000 or less and only seven make less than $40,000. Among top earners, those making $80,000 or more, 44% are at four-year private schools, while 40% are at four-year public schools and 16% are at community colleges. But advisers at private schools do not fare as well in the next income bracket. Of those making $75,000-$80,000, 66.7% are four-year public school advisers, while only 11.1% are advisers at private, four-year schools. An additional 22.2% are community college advisers.  In the next bracket, advisers earning $70,000 to $75,000, close to half (46.2%) are from four-year private schools, while 38.5% are from four-year public schools and 15.4% are from community colleges. Most (90%) of advisers making $55,000 to $60,000 are also at four-year public schools.

Advising duties are another area that differs widely across college newsrooms. Most advisers (80%) have advising duties included in their job and do not get extra compensation for their role with student media. This is most prominent (83.5%) at four-year public schools, but is also true for more than three-quarters of advisers at private two and four-year schools. Of those who do get paid extra, 9% make $1,000-$5,000 extra, 4% make $5,000-$15,000 extra and 5% make less than $1,000 extra.

An unsettling number of advisers (63%) have no provisions in their contracts for regular salary increases. One adviser notes not having a raise since beginning the job in 2015. Some 12% enjoy automatic yearly raises, with several advisers noting they are part of a union contract. An additional 10% have to negotiate annual raises. Of those who enjoy automatic salary increases, 18.8% are at community colleges, 12.7% are at four-year public schools and 9.25 are at private four-year schools.

Nearly half of advisers (48%) have academic or student affairs deans or vice presidents overseeing their salaries. An additional 11% have academic chairs who oversee their salaries, while 5% answer to a media board. For 6% of advisers, the university president determines salary. A worrisome 1% of advisers rely on the student government to set their salary. Although rare, this raises profound ethical and First Amendment questions. Several advisers also report answering to university human resources departments for salary issues.

Another issue of concern is that 41% of advisers still do not have set job descriptions for their role with campus news outlets. That number is down from 57% in 2014 and 62% in 2009, which is reassuring, but it is certainly worth watching. Of those with set descriptions, 21% report that they write the descriptions themselves, while 30% have them done by an academic dean or chair. Some (13%)  rely on a media board, while 2% say their university president writes their job description.

As with salary, 1% of advisers say student government representatives write their job description. An additional 15% wrote in options not presented in the survey. Some of those included the students they advise (6), student engagement director, provost and human resources staff.  Public four-year schools have the best record on job descriptions, with 70% of advisers having written job duties. The numbers at private four-year universities are much lower, at 50%, and are even less (47.6%) at community colleges. Smaller schools with 1,000 or fewer students are least likely (9%) to have written job descriptions for advisers, while larger public universities, particularly those with 15,001-20,000, are the most likely (92%).

Reporting Responsibilities

With regard to reporting responsibility, 29% of advisers report to a department chair, which is a 3% increase from 2014, and a 5% increase from 2009. Advisers reporting to an academic dean/vice president decreased only slightly, from 20% in 2014 to 19% in 2020, and those reporting to a student affairs dean/vice president decreased from 17% in 2014 to 11% in 2020 (returning close to 2009 numbers with 12%).

Participants reporting to a student activities/student life director remained unchanged from 2014 levels at 15%. Meanwhile those reporting to a student media/publications board increased slightly to 9% in 2020 from 8% in 2014. Advisers who reported to a publications/media director decreased from 6% in 2014 to 4% in 2020. No participants indicated they reported directly to a student government association or a public relations dean/vice president (see Table 7).

For advisers at two-year colleges, the largest percentage of participants (41.5%) reported to an academic dean/vice president, which is a significant increase from 27% in 2014. This was followed by a department chair with 24.4% in 2020, up slightly from 22% in 2014. Advisers at two-year schools who reported to student activities continued to decline from 18% in 2014 to 14.6% in 2020. Advisers who reported to presidents and advisers who reported to a publications board both came in at 4.9%; in 2014 there were no advisers who reported to presidents and 6% of advisers reported to a publications board.

At four-year public institutions, 38.3% of advisers reported to department chairs, which is an increase from 27% in 2014. That is followed by student activities/student life directors at 19.1%, a slight increase from 18% in 2014. Student affairs deans/vice presidents decreased to 14.2% from 18% in 2014. Advisers who reported to a publications/media board came in at 5.7% in 2020, which decreased from 10% in 2014. Advisers who reported to academic deans/vice presidents, (7.8%) remained almost unchanged from 8 percent in 2014, and those who report to publications/media directors remained nearly unchanged from 2014 to 2020 (6% to 6.4%).

For advisers at four-year private institutions, the academic dean or vice president supervises most advisers (26.6%), down from 30% percent in 2014. Other areas include department chairs (18.1%), down from 24% in 2014; student affairs dean/vice president (10.6%), down from 15%; publications/media board (14.9%), a significant increase from 6% in 2014; and student activities/student life director (10%), comparable to 2014.

With regard to who is the publisher in the college newsroom, 28% of respondents stated that they are independent. This was the highest percentage of all categories. The publications board / media board as publisher was selected by 15% of participants; published by “other” was also selected by 15%; and published by the editor was selected by 14%. Advisers, student affairs vice presidents or boards of trustees were each ranked at 4%; and academic deans/leaders were listed by 3% of respondents.

At community colleges, 32% of participants reported that the publisher is the newspaper adviser. That was followed by 24% who listed the paper as independent; 11% who listed published by “other”; 8% each who listed the publisher as an editorial board / management board or the college president or the board of trustees.

At four-year public institutions, 30% reported that they are independent of the college or university. That is followed by 21% that reported a publication board or media board was publisher; 15% were published by “other”: 12% identified the newspaper editor; 8% listed an an editorial board/management board, 4% said the president was publisher; 3% listed the student affairs/vice president; and another 3% reported the adviser is the publisher. At colleges that reported board of trustees as publisher, and colleges that reported the academic dean as publisher, both were minimal at 2%.

At four-year private institutions, 25% indicated they were independent of the college or university. That is followed by 13% which listed the media board as publisher; 11% which listed the editor; 8% which listed the president; 6% which named the adviser; and 4% which said student affairs or a vice president was publisher.


Although this survey sought to collect information about the current environment facing college media advisers, it had several limitations. The survey sought to understand what roles advisers handle, how many news organizations they oversee and how many employees work in student media on their campus. But the two questions geared toward these issues did not offer enough options or go into enough specificity, causing many advisers to leave it blank or mention it in the comments section. Also, due to confusion over what constitutes a semester hour, answers on advisers’ teaching load were not included. Future versions of this survey instrument will provide participants the option to select more than one professional affiliation. Finally, the survey was sent to only CMA members. This is the formula that has worked in years past, but leaves out advisers active in other journalism settings.


The findings from this study highlight the continued prevalence of college media across the country, the vast differences in how colleges treat their student media outlets and the need for more in-depth research on the intricacies of how student media programs operate. First, there is a stunning lack of data on the diversity of college newsrooms. Currently, there is no way to assess how college newsrooms are succeeding or failing to reflect their campus demographics or the nation’s demographics as a whole. Perhaps even more importantly, though, there is no accurate assessment of who is being trained to be a journalist, since it is common for a student to choose a major other than journalism while working in a college newsroom. While there is still much that is not known about the diversity of college newsrooms, this data does show, though, that college media advisers do not reflect the racial/ethnic diversity of most college campuses.

Future research needs to focus on the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 on college newsrooms. These data indicate the pandemic has pushed college newsrooms into converging programs, managing with disappearing budgets or, in some cases, shutting down completely. In the comments section, several advisers voiced concern that administrators will use COVID-19 as a reason to cut their programs, reduce their frequency or transfer them to digital-only formats.

The effects on individual campuses, but also on the broader news landscape, need to be more closely examined. As local news shrinks, what ongoing role will campus news sites play? Will college students respond to digital-only products with the same loyalty as they have historically to print versions? Will students producing news feel the same sort of solidarity with a digital product as they do with print issues?

Still, the results from this research reveal several important improvements for college media advisers. Overall, salaries have increased for advisers since 2014. Since 2014, 92% of advisers make more than $40,000, and nearly three-quarters of advisers make more than $50,000. The number of advisers that have in-tact job descriptions has increased from 43% to 59% with advisers at four-year colleges having the highest percentages of advisers with job descriptions. The fact that tenure-track or tenured advisers have remained unchanged since 2014 can be seen as a highlight since tenure offers advisers protection from institutional retaliation and are becoming rarer at many institutions (Vedder 2020).

Overall, there is a sense among the participants’ open-ended responses that the massive disruption of COVID-19 has left college media and advisers in a state of flux. While that disruption means worrisome budget cuts and unknown sources of advertising revenue, it may also mean opportunities for growth and innovation. Support from institutions for the work of student newsrooms and the professional organizations that support student journalism will be needed urgently and consistently. College Media Association and others will need to explore and predict the needs of newsrooms in new ways for the coming years.


  • AAUP. 2016. “Threats to the Independence of Student Media.” American Association of University Professors. 2016.
  • Aldeman, Chad. 2021. “During the Pandemic, ‘Lost’ Education Jobs Aren’t What They Seem.” Brookings. March 22, 2021.
  • Anderson, C. W., T. Glaisyer, J. Smith, and M. Rothfeld. 2011. “Shaping 21st Century Journalism: Leveraging a ‘Teaching Hospital Model’ in Journalism Education.” Knight Foundation. 2011.
  • Arana, Gabriel. 2018. “Decades of Failure.” Columbia Journalism Review. 2018.
  • College Media Association. 2013. “Professional and Personal Codes.” August 22, 2013.
  • College Media Association. 2020. “Survey: College Media Continue despite Pandemic.” College Media Review. September 8, 2020.
  • FIRE. n.d. “Under Pressure: The Warning Signs of Student Newspaper Censorship.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Accessed March 1, 2021.
  • Hussain, Suhauna, and Tsering Bista. 2018. “Tackling Diversity in Student Newsrooms.” Asian American Journalists Association. July 29, 2018.
  • Incollingo, J.S. 2017. “The Teaching Hospital Model of Journalism Education.” Essay. In College Media: Learning in Action, edited by Gregory Adamo and Allan DiBiase, 177–90. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing Group.
  • Koh, Charissa, Liz Rieth, and Isaiah Johnson. 2018. “Papered over: Biblical Truth-Telling at College Newspapers Can Sometimes Conflict with the Way Administrators Want to Portray the School. Here’s a Case Study of How Liberty University Handled the Tension Last Spring.” World Magazine. August 16, 2018.
  • Kovacs, Kasia. 2016. “Student Reporters Face Retaliation from University Administrators, New Report Says.” Inside Higher Ed. December 1, 2016.
  • Lowe, Mira. 2019. “The Year of Student-Powered Journalism.” Nieman Lab. December 2019.
  • Martinez, Marissa. 2020. “On Diversity, College Newsrooms Don’t Get a Pass.” The Objective. July 3, 2020.
  • Nierenberg, Amelia. 2020. “Covid Is the Big Story on Campus. College Reporters Have the Scoop.” The New York Times. November 4, 2020.
  • Robertson, Katie. 2020. “43 Student Journalists Quit N.Y.U. Paper After Dispute With Adviser.” The New York Times. September 29, 2020.
  • Smith, E., Payne, L., Hettinga, K., & Norman, J. (2020). Keeping the lights on and the wolves outside: college media advisers in communities of practice. Journal of Mass Communication Educator. doi:10.1177/1077695820984333
  • Smith, Elizabeth, Lisa Lyon Payne, Kirstie Hettinga, and Jean Norman. 2020. “Keeping the Lights on and the Wolves Outside: College Student Media Advisers in Communities of Practice.” Journalism & Mass Communication Educator.
  • Smith, Jason A., Marika Rothfeld, and Tom Glaisyer. 2011. “Shaping 21st Century Journalism: Leveraging a ‘Teaching Hospital Model’ in Journalism Education.” New America Foundation. October 2011.
  • Stites, Tom. 2018. “About 1,300 U.S. Communities Have Totally Lost News Coverage, UNC News Desert Study Finds.” Poynter. November 16, 2018.
  • Vedder, Richard. 2020. “Tenure Is Dying.” Forbes. April 13, 2020.

Table 1
COVID emergency funding and student stipend reductions by percentage


    Reduction in stipends  
    Yes No
Emergency funding Yes 5.9% 5.3%
  No 94.1% 94.7% 

Table 2

Newsroom production during COVID shutdown by percentage

    Yes No
Type of School Two-year public 14.0% 27.8%
  Four-year public 51.6% 50.0%
  Four-year private 34.5% 22.2%

Table 3

Adviser diversity in percentages 

  Categorization Two-year public schools Four-year public schools Four-year private schools
Race/ethnicity Alaska or Native American (n=1) 100.0% 0% 0%
  Asian (n=5) 0% 60.0% 40.0%
  Black or African American (n=13) 7.7% 69.2% 23.1%
  Hispanic or Latinx (n=16) 31.3% 50% 18.8%
  Native Hawaiian or Native Islander (n=0) 0% 0% 0%


14.4% 51.3% 33.6%
  Other (n=4) 0% 25.0% 75.0%

Table 4

Advisers and editing content prior to publication by percentage

  Categorization Yes




Type of School Two-year public 8.6% 14.8%
  Four-year public 22.9% 55.7%
  Four-year private 68.6% 29.5%

Table 5

Hours spent advising by percentage

  Categorization Two-year public schools Four-year public schools Four-year private schools
Time 20 hours or less 17.4% 34.8% 47.8%
  21-30 hours 23.6% 47.2% 29.2%
  31-40 9.1% 77.3% 13.6%
  41-50 2.8% 72.2% 25.0%
  51-60 0.0% 77.8% 22.2%
  61 hours
or more
25.0% 50.0% 25.0%

Table 6

Adviser salaries

  Categorization Two-year public schools Four-year public schools Four-year private schools
Pay Scale $20,000 or less 0% 0% 100.0%
  $20,001 to $25,000 0% 0% 0%
  $25,001 to $30,000 0% 0% 0%
  $30,001 to $35,000 33.3% 33.3% 33.3%
  $35,001 to $40,000 0% 100.0% 0%
  $40,001 to $45,000 0% 67.7% 33.3%
  $45,001 to $50,000 8.3% 66.7% 25.0%
  $50,001 to $55,000 11.8% 70.6% 17.6%
  $55,001 to $60,000 0% 90.0% 10.0%
  $60,001 to $65,000 6.3% 56.3% 37.5%
  $65,001 to $70,000 22.2% 44.4% 38.5%
  $70,001 to $75,000 15.4% 38.5% 46.2%
  $75,001 to $80,000 22.2% 66.7% 11.1%
  $80,001 or more 16.0% 40.0% 44.0%

 Table 7

Adviser assignments by percentages

  Categorization Two-year public schools Four-year public schools Four-year private schools
Assignments Journalism/
Communication Department
13.4% 47.0% 39.6%
  English 61.9% 23.8% 14.3%
  Speech 100% 0% 0%
  Business 0% 0% 0%
  Not assigned 5.3% 68.4% 26.3%
  Other 23.8% 33.3% 42.9%

Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver. EdD, is executive director of the Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver Center for the Advancement of Women in Communication and dean emeritus and professor of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University. She was named the Outstanding Woman in Journalism and Mass Communication Education for 2009 by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. A nationally known expert and researcher on the First Amendment, the scholastic and collegiate press, and the role and status of women in communication, she is the author of more than 115 scholarly articles, monographs and books.  She is past president of AEJMC, College Media Advisers, the Student Press Law Center, and the Community College Journalism Association.  She holds numerous awards for her service to education. In 2011 she was awarded FIU’s Distinguished University Service Medallion for her outstanding contributions to FIU.

Elizabeth R. Smith, EdD., is an assistant professor of communication at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, and director of Pepperdine Graphic Media. She has 17 years of experience teaching a variety of journalism and media courses at Pepperdine, as well as advising the Graphic and directing Pepperdine Graphic Media. She has nearly 20 years of professional experience in the journalism industry, including print, web and broadcast news. She is an award-winning journalist, and in 2010 won an Emmy for her work at KTLA on the breaking-news coverage of Michael Jackson’s death. Smith was named a Kopenhaver Center Fellow for 2017. Smith has partnered with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on the topics of news literacy and understanding the spread of fake news. Her current research includes news literacy, Communities of Practice in student newsrooms, accuracy in the news, and technology and innovation in newsrooms and journalism programs.

Jody Kleinberg Biehl (BA English/Art History, 1993 MA Journalism 1997) specializes in print and web media. In 2003, she was one of three journalists selected to create an English website for Europe’s largest news magazine, Der Spiegel. The site, based in Berlin, now attracts 2-3 million readers per month. Before joining Der Spiegel, Ms. Biehl worked as a European correspondent for The San Francisco Chronicle and as a free-lance correspondent for USA TODAY and the Boston Globe. She also spent four years as a general assignment reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a New York Times-owned paper in Northern California. She won numerous journalism awards during her time at the Press Democrat and in 2000 received an Arthur F. Burns fellowship, which took her to Berlin for three months as a reporter. She has reported from France, England, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Germany. She speaks fluent French and German.