By Emma Reilly
I am a member of The Elm’s editorial board, so naturally I keep up with and read work published by other student-run publications. Occasionally an article or two will catch my attention; sometimes the pieces I read inspire those that later appear in my own section.
College newspapers don’t only exchange ideas amongst themselves. Journalism is an endeavor centered around timeliness, so student newspapers also cover topics that appear in professional publications’ headlines.
While The New York Times and The Washington Post investigate the usual suspects — COVID-19, Russia, you name it — college newspapers follow suit.
Professional and undergraduate journalists may write about the same national, regional, and local issues, but college students are the ones who display a willingness to turn their attention inward. This regard for self-reflection is exemplified by The Harvard Crimson’s 2020 article, “Four First Steps for a Better Editorial Board.”
According to the article, The Crimson’s editorial board was motivated “to critically review [their] history, stances, and current practices” following the murder of George Floyd on May 25 of that year.
Though the daily outlined steps for developing journalistic best practices at the college-level quite a while ago, I find it a perfect example of how student-run publications can inspire and better one another.
Both The Elm and Washington College as a whole would both benefit from the implementation of the steps developed by The Crimson (it is worth noting that The Crimson’s fourth step — publishing the names of current editorial board members — is already a common practice for us).
In an effort to facilitate an open dialogue between The Crimson and Harvard University’s student body, the publication’s editorial board added a “suggestion box” feature to The Crimson’s website that included an anonymous contributor function.
According to The Elm’s website, “the staff is dedicated to…serving as a voice for the student body.” Adopting this method would further highlight The Elm’s dedication to this purpose.
Expanding The Elm’s means of collecting feedback from its readership would also serve as an acknowledgment of the role the newspaper plays on campus.
“Our voice is sometimes seen as a stand-in for that of students broadly,” The Crimson said.
The same is true of The Elm, and as our editorial board is not wholly representative of WC’s student population, that population should have ways of voicing its concerns without composing a “Letter to the Editor” whenever an issue arises.
The Elm could also host Q&A sessions with the student body, as The Crimson does. Allowing student organizations to meet with the editorial board would increase transparency and once again create a space for students to voice their concerns.
In addition to focusing on transparency and communication, The Crimson’s steps highlight diversity of opinion. That’s especially relevant to me, as opinion editor.
The Crimson said they wanted to strive to create “a space for dissent and disagreement, with a leaning as malleable as [its] membership.” Opposing perspectives make for great opinion pieces, and I strongly believe The Elm would benefit from an active pursuit of this third tenant.
Undergraduate journalists are still learning and college newspapers are not perfect. I am constantly grappling with that reality as I navigate my own role as a student editor, and I am sure that some of my readers considered those drawbacks as well.
There is nothing wrong with needing a little room for improvement. No one’s asking for flawlessness. But if we aren’t taking direct action and actually attempt to enact change and promote growth, we won’t get anywhere.
As we work to foster inclusivity and openness at WC, The Elm’s editorial board and staff should do their part by seriously reflecting on the structures of which they are a part, per the example set by The Crimson.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Featured Photo Caption: As physical and widely circulated embodiments of student perspectives and concerns, college publications like The Elm have an obligation to be transparent.