A year ago, I never thought I would become Co-Editor-in-Chief of the paper with J.M. We were both copy-editors who enjoyed coming to The Carletonian office on Thursday nights to “find errors” (read: mess around and listen to music). I think he had a much more legitimate interest in journalism. In high school, I had written a few articles for a newspaper you could hardly even call a newspaper. I enjoyed writing, but had no desire to write news stories, which I thought dull and meaningless compared to fiction.
I started copy-editing because it seemed a non-committal way to get involved, and I was freshman with nothing else to do. I did not know that The Carletonian was not a “cool” publication (if I had, I probably would have written for The Carl—which J.M. did, small trivia fact), or that the paper had been awfully mismanaged, or that this hot mess of a publication would in just a year become so wonderfully important and part of my life here.
I usually do not like to write about the paper in the paper. It’s a weird form of meta-reflection that seems best to avoid. But for this last issue, some transparency and reflection on the year suddenly feel warranted, so here it goes.
In terms of mismanagement, I do not intend to blame the old Eds. If they read this, they might understand it that way, but I hope they do not. Six months ago, I probably would have blamed them. But having been Editor-in-Chief for half of winter term, when one of our old Eds took a sabbatical and then later resigned, I realized: running the paper is somewhat monumental task. If you don’t have the tools, structures, or the staff to help you, it is hardly feasible without self-destruction. The paper is the people. If there are no people—e.g., if there is just you and your co-Ed, hammering out pages in InDesign at 2 AM Friday morning—there might be a paper, but there might not be a you anymore, and the quality of the finished product will certainly be sub-optimal.
As to how precisely the paper got into the condition it was at the start of this year, I cannot say. As for what condition that was, you know what I’m talking about--perfunctory stories feigning to be “news,” stale headlines, etc. Does this sound familiar? “On Saturday night, a group of Carls gathered in the [insert place] to celebrate the [insert event]. ‘It was really wonderful,’ said Kashi Blumki, ’15. ‘I hope it happens again next year.’” Just thinking about the specific template of “event story” gives me a migraine, and I do not even get migraines.
My guess is the paper’s degradation happened over several years, and was likely not the work of one individual. These slow declines never are. Probably, it was many people simply not caring enough. Taking short cuts, ignoring issues. Graduating and forgetting to pass on the torch. That sort of thing, which has been the downfall of many clubs and collectives on college campuses.
It is amazing how much harm people can do if they simply do not care enough. Apathy builds. We’re an old institution, founded in 1877. To put that in perspective: The Harvard Crimson was founded in 1873. The Yale Daily News was started in 1878. But when systems start breaking down, longevity does not necessarily mean stability.
Little known fact: the school does not fund us. We independently fund ourselves, which allows us write about whatever we would like, regardless of whether or not it pisses off the administration. But we pay a (monetary) price for that freedom. The Carl and The Quirk might have thought it a personal decision, but we had to stop funding them because we had to focus on funding ourselves. Why? Because at some point, those running the paper stopped caring about getting subscriptions or running ads (e.g. revenue), and kept charging expenses--a strategy I would not recommend for you future financial affairs.
We are out of the red now, largely due to J.M.’s dedication in dealing with an issue no one really wanted to deal with. But hey, you know what’s a great gift for you grandma? A subscription to The Carletonian. And flowers.
Where we are now
All this harping on the former dysfunctionality of the paper is to highlight exactly that: the former dysfunctionality. Maybe you have noticed a change in the paper in the past couple terms. I hope you have. In recent months, while talking to students about The Carletonian, I have often heard something to the effect of: “I’ll be honest, The Carletonian used to suck… but it has been interesting lately.” Okay, yes, it’s not “The Carletonian is great!” but I do not need that validation yet. The mere knowledge that we are doing better is enough, because it means our hard work has had an effect.
And for that hard work, we have our dedicated staff members to thank, the editors and writers and photographers, both those who will continue on next year and those who are graduating this year. They have committed themselves to this paper, even when it was the butt of some joke in The CARL, or a writer’s piece was being roasted in the CLAP. On top of my gratefulness to them for their persistence and effort, it has also simply been a lot of fun to work with them.
Our goal, in a sea of publications
Carleton has a plethora of publications, and it is perhaps natural for them to bicker and compete. We all want an audience, and in a 2,000-student school, there is a finite supply of readers. But to be honest—and I feel comfortable speaking for our whole staff, here—competing with other campus publications is not The Carletonian’s goal. If we are looking to compete with anyone, it is not with publications in our own college community (all of which have different content and goals), but with other college newspapers, like The Bowdoin Orient and The Swarthmore Phoenix. Carleton deserves a great newspaper, as great as either of those publications.
Our goal is to provide the community with a valuable and compelling resource of information, while simultaneously providing our staff with a journalistic experience. This latter point is especially important considering Carleton does not have journalism major. I know we are not The New York Times (although honestly, we’re pretty close, right?) but I believe that even at a small Midwestern liberal arts college, and even with readily accessible information via social networks, there is a place for journalism.
Next year, we will continue to work towards that goal at The Carletonian. I cannot wait to collaborate with J.M. as co-eds, and to work alongside our new staff. They are bright and passionate individuals, and I think you can expect terrific things from them.
To quote good ol’ Teddy Roosevelt: “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Okay, so it might not be busting trusts or conserving forests, but I think The Carletonian is work worth doing. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do that work this year, and I am glad to have that opportunity to do it again next year. Amazingly, the most unexpected--and often the most demanding--part of my life has also become the most fulfilling.
If you might be interested in this work too, consider becoming involved in the fall. Come to a meeting, write a Viewpoint piece, submit a letter to the Editors or even simply send an email with your thoughts. For The Carletonian to be truly successful, it must be a reflection of the Carleton community, and that means having a range of voices and inputs. We’re getting there.