Smaller Colleges and the Media: When Is Good News Newsworthy?


So, your team has been working its brains out to turn around your college's reputation, and earn the accreditation and positive attention it needs to provide students with an excellent education and a brighter future. After a few years of enormous effort, the work is paying off. Enrollment is up, student capabilities are up, retention and graduation rates are up, and the alumni base is warming to the idea that things have indeed changed for the institution. What isn't up are news stories, particularly by major local media, about what is going right on your small campus.

When something goes wrong, however, your little school is suddenly and, due to the Internet, forever in the news. The problem is not in the reporting, but rather with the lack of follow-through; some media outlets report only on initial information. If an accused person is exonerated, a lawsuit is dropped, or an understanding is reached between opposing parties, the public is unlikely to hear the resolution of the story. When litigation is pending or in process, the accused may be prohibited from discussing the details.

"There's no such thing as bad publicity," might be true for a celebrity, but it certainly isn't true for a college or university. No doubt, the press must continue to inform the public about important and topical events, and egregious behavior should be appropriately acknowledged and punished. But when balance is sacrificed, the cost to an institution, particularly a small one, can be dear.

Not writing enough about the many good things generated by smaller colleges, the community service their students perform, the expertise their faculty bring through research and speaking, and the progress that schools make in serving their neighborhoods results in the media undermining the diligent efforts of worthy institutions and their constituents.

Perhaps there will be a day when such an overwhelming number of people have negative stories, images and comments posted about them throughout the virtual world, that no one will give them much thought. Until then, follow-through, forgiveness, praise and celebration of efforts gone right would be most welcome.