Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Musings from a retired editor

<sked to write a retrospective about my four years Carleton, I turned immediately and with mixed feelings upon my time with The Carletonian, The Carl, and The CLAP. I discovered my love of journalism with The Carletonian, and so though it would be irresponsible to be uncritical of the institution, I do hope that the journalistic spirit remains strong at Carleton and that students feel a responsibility to report on the environment around them and investigate important issues for the sake of informing themselves and their peers.

I began writing for the ‘tonian in the winter of 2014 after an English professor recommended I seek more practice writing. Like many Carletonian editors of today, yesterday, and tomorrow, I found myself rapidly promoted to a high position. I wanted to make editorial decisions: I wanted theater reviews to be constructive criticism rather than vapid and careless compliments, I wanted news stories to be fresh and for them to address controversial happenings, and I wanted the opinion section to be full of pieces that at least made sense.

These visions I got from and shared with the rest of the editorial staff my sophomore year, and though each goal would need to be accomplished again, week after week, print date after print date, I’m proud to say the eight or ten of us resurrected the ‘tonian from a murky place.
But some deeper problems remain with The Carletonian model, ones with which the editorial team will always grapple. Firstly, the paper relies heavily on freshmen and sophomore writers who, for example, pester BSA leaders each time a racist incident deemed newsworthy occurs on campus. Thinking they’re the first to tread their path, and not thinking carefully about how good liberal intentions can go bad, having the least experienced class year contribute the most to our school’s newspaper is a recipe for a shitty newspaper.

Secondly, the ‘tonian’s news cycle is too slow to keep up with campus goings-on. With pitches coming in some ten days before publication, what once seemed new and interesting becomes cold and flay by the time it hits the press. The paper has improved vastly on this front, starting with some crucial changes in 2014 and 2015 under the editorship of Drew Higgins and JM Hanley. In the dark ages of our freshman year, the ‘tonian would write reviews of the convocation speech from the previous week.

Finally, The Carletonian relies upon two sources of funding which disrupt its status as an independent student publication. The paper either gets its dough for publication from subscriptions, primarily from parents and alums, or from the implicit support of SAO (a funding source exploited in the spring and fall of 2014).

In the first case, the paper is independent but must appeal to a non-student audience. This leads the paper to produce content uninteresting to any student, but mildly interesting to folks outside the Carleton community.

In the latter case, the paper is not truly independent and thus loses its critical distance from college officials. As long as the ‘tonian has printing costs, I don’t think there’s an easy solution to this problem.

When I was a new ed, I believed we could build enough institutional memory and credibility to continue hitting homers, week after week. But these three aforementioned problems began to haunt me. Overcoming each would be an uphill battle, a sort of Sisyphean struggle each week. JM Hanley once remarked to me that people are so willing to pour time into papers only they and their professors will read, but so few are willing to opine publicly, where it matters most.

But I found after a year of being editor that I rarely opined any more: instead I micromanaged rookie writers and tried to make the formatting look like the Times, our main rival. My writing went nowhere, and my time went out the window. I wanted more hours to be a normal student. So I defected to The Carl.

I have not been involved with the ‘tonian since Trump began his war on credible journalism, so I don’t know much of the pretended anxieties of the organization. But we know this: school and local newspapers have been dying out around the country. And without journalism, the populace loses an authoritative contact with public goings-on, and the rational decision process that voting is supposed to be loses its factual bedrock.

At a non-democratic institution like Carleton, students still need to know what is being done in their name. The college’s apparent deprioritization of sexual assault policy and divestment, and its apparently augmented valuation of jobs skills and pursuing Williams College in national rankings of liberal arts colleges, all needs to be checked.

In the old old days, accessible only through the archives, the ‘tonian was the only place opinions and news could be widely broadcast on campus. Part of the reason the ‘tonian “sucks” (using the colloquial terminology) is that it takes a huge effort to fill it and keep it in print in the time of social media and start-up campus publications. Solid opinions and news are now spread across various Facebook pages, Bored@ (RIP), The Carl, the Viewpoint, Infemous, etc.

Though many campus writers and activists hold the administration accountable for their actions, their messages are shared in a variety of outlets often inaccessible to those outside their immediate social network.

Other than being unambiguously and constantly accessible to all Carls, the only special appeal The Carletonian has is that it’s anachronistically in print and that administrators read it. Of all publications, The CLAP suits today’s media culture best, though it’s conflated roles as a party beacon, call out soap box, and print collection of shit posts makes it hard to take seriously. A unified news source, diverse in opinion but easily accessible, is an impossibility today.   

For my first Carletonian story, I researched the old yearbook, the Algol, and what happened to it. I’d later come to see this story as typical of a brand of ‘tonian story, the “What happened to this old thing” story (ex. tunnels, kegs, etc.). But what would end up being the central thread of the story, that we have nice things because people care for them, does resonate with much of my ‘tonian experience and writing experience at Carleton in general.

And while the ‘tonian will always exist, every bit of quality that appears in the ‘tonian comes from the hard work of not that many editors spending a lot of hours on InDesign.

And it would probably be against Carleton tradition to laud the editors for this, but it’s worth recognizing that they’re keeping the ship afloat. Any individual news source will have its downfalls and thin issues: in the words of Politico founder John Harris, each issue needs only a couple grade A pieces, while the rest can be Bs and Cs.

With tinges of nostalgia and defeatism, I’ll have these be my last words in the ‘tonian: that though the ‘tonian has been jousting windmills for a while, it represents an upright principle of a thoughtful community: good writing, researched and challenging, should, well, get read. And heck, it might as well be typo-free.

Editor’s Note: The Carletonian does not currently receive funding from SAO.

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