President’s column: Contest, scholarships, and standing up for student journalists

By Betsy Russell

As winter arrives, we’re looking ahead to some Press Club landmarks on the calendar: Our annual journalism contest, for which entries will open in December; our annual Don Watkins Memorial Scholarship contest, with categories both for students and mid-career journalists, for which entries are due by Feb. 15; and the legislative session that starts in January, when our 1st Amendment Committee will swing into gear to advocate against legislative proposals that would shut down public access to our government, and in favor of those that would open it up.

And we’re currently enmeshed in a lawsuit against Ada County over public records compliance; see 1st Amendment Committee Chair Melissa Davlin’s update on that in this issue of the Communicator.

So with that frame of mind, we were taken aback to hear that student journalists at BYU-Idaho were being told not to report on a big controversy on their campus, regarding the Rexburg university’s decision to stop accepting Medicaid as sufficient insurance to waive the requirement of purchasing a student health plan.

You may have seen 1st Amendment Chair Davlin’s statement on social media about that; I’m reprinting it here:

“If a university is confident in its decisions, it shouldn’t stifle coverage of them.

The Idaho Press Club unequivocally stands by student reporters at Brigham Young University-Idaho’s Scroll newspaper who are being discouraged from reporting on the university’s recent announcement that it will no longer accept Medicaid in lieu of other health insurance.

Student media exists not only to teach budding reporters, but to also inform the campus community about important issues. BYU-Idaho discouraging coverage of this issue is not only a slap in the face of the First Amendment — it prevents students from accessing information that directly affects their health.

If BYU-Idaho is serious about training student journalists, it is doing them an incredible disservice by preventing them from reporting on the news of the day. The Idaho Press Club encourages the administration to stay out of the way of student coverage.”

We will continue to fight the fight for openness in Idaho, in all the ways that we can.

Among the ways you can support our efforts: Enter our annual journalism contest. Entry fees from the contest are the major source of funding for the Idaho Press Club each year; it’s also an opportunity to have your best work recognized, as hard-working journalists so richly deserve. Check out the categories and rules on our website, www.idahopressclub.org. Entries will be accepted starting Dec. 15.  All entries are due by Jan. 22; don’t wait ‘til the last minute!

We also grant scholarships to Idaho journalism students and mid-career journalists through our endowed Don Watkins Memorial Scholarship program. For students, the scholarship is $1,500 to a graduate of an Idaho high school who has completed at least one year of college and is looking to pursue a career in journalism or communications. Full-time students majoring in journalism or working for a college or professional media outlet are eligible to apply.

The Mid-Career Scholarship awards $500 for any Idaho Press Club member to use for any training or project that will improve the working press in Idaho. See our website for details on both scholarship programs and how to apply.

The scholarships also further our mission of improving journalism in Idaho. Here’s our Idaho Press Club mission: “To promote excellence in journalism, freedom of expression and freedom of information.”

Betsy Russell is the Boise bureau chief for the Idaho Press, and is the president of the Idaho Press Club.