Tennessean's Coverage of Tennessee State Depicts a Newspaper Challenged
The following is an editorial written by Jarrett L. Carter Sr., Founding Editor of the HBCU Digest and Executive Director of the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, Inc.
Where much time and effort has been invested in exposing the university’s leadership and structural deficiencies, little to no time has been attributed to the critical elements influencing these issues. The university’s academic mission of serving those whom the State of Tennessee has abandoned at the elementary and secondary levels, and its cultural mission of providing access and opportunity to those students who might not find such opportunities voluntarily afforded to them by other institutions in Tennessee, presents the need for a much different kind of discussion – a discussion that must call for the accountability from the State of Tennessee and the opportunistic local media that grossly misses the mark on responsible coverage.
The reality for many historically black colleges and universities across the nation, particularly in economically trying times, is that resources from state and private factions are not easily routed to the institutions serving those with the greatest need. This reality is life-altering for those students seeking funding opportunities for education, and life-threatening for the institutions striving to maintain operational integrity with thinly-stretched budgets. The Tennessean crafts headlines on TSU’s retention and enrollment challenges with students the state acknowledges as unprepared at the secondary level. Yet the paper buries the more-startling lead on a more important story; the disparity of retention rates at Tennessee State and their direct relation to the economic struggles faced by minority families in Tennessee and beyond.
The Tennessean thunders headlines into print on expenditures made by TSU per student, yet whispers that Tennessee State was bested only by Austin Peay University for the lowest budget allocation projections amongst public colleges and universities in the state in 2008, and received the lowest allocation recommendations for the 2010-11 budgets, with just under $3 million in improvements.
The Tennessean can call to task the university for poor leadership and structural student support, yet has made no effort to balance expose’ reporting with reviews of the university’s successes – successes that would dramatically influence public perception of the university. TSU’s training seminar for area public school math teachers, its partnership with the Naval Engineering Education Center, and its perfect passing rates for the state’s board of nursing licensure exam are just a few of the recent achievements worthy of national attention, but barely gracing the pages of its local paper of record.
No true and informed supporter of Tennessee State University yearns for facts about the university’s performance to be manipulated or omitted from public review and account. But the partnership between higher education and media requires a mutually-collegial approach to the promotion and enhancement of the taxpayers’ money working in the form of academic and social talent being groomed to professionally benefit the State of Tennessee. For the good of its mission, and in spite of ever-dwindling support from the state legislature, Tennessee State University has kept its end of the bargain.
The Tennessean, despite its access to facts and ability to do better for all parties involved, remains a media resource challenged by unbalanced, divisive and unrepentant journalism towards one of America’s great academic and cultural treasures.