I’ve written for a variety of the sections of the Carletonian, but consistently, the most difficult section is news. And I get that. I get that finding sources takes time, as does conducting research and finding information that isn’t readily available. But to be honest, that’s not why. I don’t mind doing any of those things. My problem, and the reason I write almost solely Viewpoints, lies with the way that admin treats Carletonian writers.
At a small liberal arts college, the student newspaper should be able to get an interview with the various deans when it’s necessary for an article. My only option to present the school administration should not be a brief email that half the time only partially answers the questions I asked. I should clarify that by administrative leaders, I mean the administrative leadership such as deans rather than administrative staff, who have consistently been absolutely lovely. When I, as a journalist, reach out to admin in an article about a significant policy change or decision, I have a responsibility to listen fairly and to make the best case that I can for the college, just as much as I have a responsibility to accurately represent student criticisms. But that responsibility goes both ways: people who make decisions here and people in positions of leadership have an equal responsibility to engage with students and to be as transparent as possible.
I’m aware that the Carletonian dedicates many column inches to criticizing decisions made by the college administration, and I realize that isn’t great for our relationship. I also realize that we rarely report on admin’s successes, which isn’t really fair to them. But it shouldn’t be easier for me to get sources from outside of the Carleton community who will probably never read the Carletonian to speak with me than it is for me to get Carleton’s own administrative leaders to talk to me.
We, as a newspaper, cannot do our jobs because we can’t accurately write about Carleton without being able to speak with the people making decisions here. Not only are we unable to fairly represent the administration’s point of view, we also can’t write about what’s really happening and how decisions are being made as a result of this lack of transparency. How many articles, then, go unwritten simply because we know we won’t find the sources? I can think of at least one I’ve given up on — an article about the COVID-19 situation on campus — because without being able to speak with a specific source, there just wasn’t a way to fairly cover the story, and my emails went unanswered.
We, as students, are trusting Carleton to educate us. Why, then, will Carleton not empower us to make informed judgments, particularly when we will have strong opinions regardless of how informed we are about the rationale behind decisions? Transparency will not increase how many times writers criticize admin, but it will increase how fair we can be to them. As a journalist, I choose to take on the responsibility to be fair to all sides of a disagreement: it is not fair to hold it against me that I cannot represent the administration’s side when my emails are ignored or my questions not taken seriously.
We are a real publication. We are understaffed, coping with a staff who cannot put the Carletonian first due to class, work and other commitments. We are working out of a room in the lobby of a dorm, our offices still unavailable to us due to a COVID-19 testing site that seems to conduct few tests anyway. We are dedicating ridiculous amounts of our own time to sharing information with the rest of our community. And we are dealing with the fact that we know we can’t rely on admin for input in our articles. It’s disrespectful for the administration to consistently ignore our emails and refuse our requests for interviews. It’s disrespectful for them not to treat us as a real publication.
The Carletonian is an activity one does not get too involved in without being deeply invested in Carleton: there truly is little other justification for subjecting oneself to the stress that is publishing an eight-page paper nearly every week during the already busy Carleton academic term. Our top editors, myself included, spend 10-15 hours each week putting this paper together. We have a staff of around 42 people, hold four meetings per week in our office that was relocated to the lobby of a dorm (apparently in exchange for marshmallows and sticks) and dedicate the entirety of Thursday afternoons and evenings to designing our pages and copy editing our articles. And that’s all in addition to writing the entire paper.
We are teaching people with no journalism experience nearly all of the skills they need for professional journalism, we are providing students with the opportunities to gain experience and improve their resumés and we offer a variety of opportunities to get more involved to students with no journalism experience. And we are doing this all as a hobby, on top of our school work, without pay or academic credit (unlike some of our peer institutions). Sometimes I question why I do this, why I commit so much of my time to this unending endeavor of making the Carletonian happen. And the answer, the only answer that I can come up with, is that we care.
This isn’t meant to be a commentary on how much work is dedicated to the Carletonian each week. We choose to do this. We’re not asking for pay right now, and we’re not asking for academic credit. All we’re asking is for admin to talk to us, for them to respect us. Really, it’s the least they can do. The material we cover is severely limited by what writers are interested in, how much time writers have each week and, most relevantly, how likely it is that we’ll have enough access to admin to really cover a story. And the problem of access to interviews with admin is entirely solvable. We may be imperfect, but we deserve for our college’s administration to give us a chance.
Journalism, particularly local journalism, is dying out across the country, and honestly, it’s not hard to see how, but we are still publishing every single week. The implications of the loss of local journalism are severe and far-reaching — it is essential for education, and, among other things, it is a necessary prerequisite for democracy. Northfield News, which is also weekly, and is one of three Northfield publications, is owned by the Adams Publishing Group, which owns at least 126 other newspapers and is not based in Northfield. We and the St. Olaf Messenger are the only local papers of Northfield, as far as I know.
We are the newspaper of the Carleton community, and we deserve to be treated by admin as competent journalists. We may need to work to gain the administration’s trust that we will be fair to them, but that trust needs to go both ways. We need to be able to trust that the leadership of our college will meaningfully engage with us. Without that relationship, without that sharing of ideas between students and the college, what are any of us doing anyway?
And finally, to our administrative leaders, please take this as an invitation to reach out. We want to engage with you. Write a Viewpoint article. Send us an email. We are not your opposition: we are a newspaper, and we want the truth. We are asking for you to respect that we are trying to be the best journalists we can be; we are asking for you to speak with us.
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