I’ve had a few days to party reflect on the Argus‘ response to Monday’s post and finally know what I want to say about it. Below is the full text of the Editor’s Notebook addressing my post, written by Ezra Silk ’10 and Suzanna Hirsch ’10 (Executive Editors), as printed in last Tuesday’s issue. My comments will follow, after the jump.
Yesterday, a senior blogger for Wesleying, writing under the pseudonym “Whatshername,” posted a lengthy critique of The Argus. As former editors of the newspaper, we would like to address her post.
“Whatshername”’s basic point is that, in two ways, The Argus is unique compared to a selection of other student newspapers. First, it compensates its editors-in-chief. Secondly, The Argus is a bi-weekly newspaper, unlike the weekly papers she cites. Overall, she questions the necessity of printing twice a week, asks why members of the staff are compensated, and wonders whether this is a proper use of student funds.
As “Whatshername” wrote, this year, the Argus initially received $40,000 from the SBC. We used this money primarily for printing and office supplies. Ultimately, we only needed $25,000 to cover these basic costs. We had agreed to return $15,000 to the SBC, but ultimately they only requested $10,000, which we gave to them in March. We saved the majority of the remaining $5,000, which will help us become more financially independent next year. We receive roughly $10,000 to $12,000 per year in advertising revenue, and this year, we used this money to compensate certain members of our staff, who we believe have earned it through their sustained time commitment to the newspaper. In general, we have always compensated key members of our staff, especially those who routinely work past midnight. We give a $250 stipend to the editors-in-chief, who regularly stay at the office from 4:30 p.m. until 5 a.m. twice a week.
In other words, The Argus is primarily paying students for their work with its own money, not with the student body’s. The SBC, then, is essentially paying for our printing costs. We should also mention that we have undertaken lengthy negotiations to ensure that our budget is efficient, and, in the last few years, we have taken substantial budget cuts.
With this said, we are wondering what the real impetus is behind “Whatshername”’s post. Theoretically, it is a critique of the way The Argus uses student funds. The top of the post is, after all, adorned by a giant, rainbow-colored dollar sign. But why critique our funding now? After reading through her post a few times, it seems clear to us that it is a generalized assault on The Argus charading as a “dialogue”-promoting investigative report on the paper’s finances.
“Whatshername,” in one of her many asides, discusses the “haterade” that may be leveled against her in response to her post, entitled “Let’s Talk About the Argus.” “In researching and writing this post I have been well aware of the haterade (love that word) that could be thrown my way,” she writes. “Ultimately, I have decided that it doesn’t matter how much crap I get for this post.”
We have one question: Is it really so brave and controversial to criticize The Argus? We are not delusional. We know that people love to make fun of us.
Beyond this, the timing of this post is especially savvy. The Argus embarrassed itself with the recent and inexcusable falsehoods that were published about positive HIV tests. Surely, many students are questioning the competence of The Argus editorial staff at the moment. We don’t blame them. It was an awful mistake.
Despite these errors (and we admit that there have been others in the past), we feel the need to defend The Argus as an institution. The Argus was founded in 1868, and is the oldest bi-weekly college newspaper in the country. We have no plans to change that. Publishing twice a week allows us to print the news while it is still news. Our peer institutions may do it differently, but that is no reason to say their way is better.
As we’ve discussed, and as “Whatshername” has pointed out: “your student newspaper is not free.” There is no denying this. We appreciate the funds that the SBC generously allocates us every year. Let us give some examples of how we try to earn them.
When someone is assaulted on campus, we call Public Safety and attempt to interview the victim(s). When the endowment loses hundreds of millions of dollars, as it did recently, we harangue the folks at North College for as much information as they will give us. Every week, an Argus reporter attends the WSA meeting and takes notes. Every other week, we meet with President Roth around his conference table in South College, and question him on a wide range of campus issues. When Wesleyan sues its own Chief Investment Officer behind closed doors, we go down to Middletown Superior Court and pay the clerk for the legal complaint.
These are some of the ways The Argus reports on campus life. We won’t bore you with the rest. Our main point is to question why “Whatshername” is suddenly trying to initiate a campus debate about The Argus’ finances. There are certainly questions about recent content-related errors in the newspaper that are worth discussing. But they appear in this piece as little more than a justification for an unjustified attack on the way The Argus is run.
We believe Wesleying can and should criticize The Argus when criticism is warranted. In this case, it was not.
Upon seeing last Tuesday’s issue, I was glad to know that the Argus was able to put together a response with so little time, but also braced myself for how they may tear apart my argument. As I read through it, however, I found that the focus had inexplicably shifted from the issues I raised in my post to subtle conspiracy-theorizing about the timing and intention behind it. By the time I reached the end of their piece, I couldn’t even figure out where my post’s argument figured into what they said. It seemed to me that this was really a response to my post having been written and published in the first place.
This put me in a strange position. I could either not respond and leave open the possibility that they were correct in suggesting that I had some nasty ulterior motives in writing about the Argus, or I could respond and risk further derailing the conversation to focus on me and not on the issues. Eventually, I decided that I had to respond to the vague allegations to get myself out of the way so we could all get back to the discussion that the Argus has seemed so anxious to avoid.
I’ll go through each of their points in the order that they show up in their piece:
1) They start off with some new information about how much money they make from revenue and how that figures into their spending. This info is definitely appreciated because it helps us put together a more accurate picture of the Argus‘ finances. In my last post, I mentioned that it should make me and other people a little more comfortable with staff getting paid if it is made clear that the SBC only pays for printing costs, so that technically students are not paying for wages. It is a helpful clarification to hear that this is how the Argus approaches their budgeting. However, it is worth noting that, if staff weren’t paid, the money from revenue could be used to pay for printing costs instead, which would decrease the SBC’s contribution. Looking at it that way, paying staff does cost the students money, even if indirectly. How you feel about this depends entirely on whether you think staff wages are a necessary cost.
2) They are correct in pointing out that the Argus has taken budget cuts in past years. However, my point is that even bigger budget cuts would come from printing only once a week. I think that’s worth considering.
3) Right after the money talk, they start questioning the timing of my post. As I stated in the comments to my last post, the reason it came out this past week was because I was working on my thesis and could not devote the kind of time to research and writing that this post required. I had been thinking about these issues for a long time but simply couldn’t get to it. Knowing that it was going to come out at the end of the semester, at a time when people have a lot of other things to think about, I was worried that nobody would care at all about the issues I raised. Then the STI reporting error happened, and I knew that many people would find my criticism of the Argus’s business model extremely timely. Some people even started questioning the Argus‘ finances! As much as I would have liked for my post to come out then, as people were asking the very questions I was hoping to answer, it still wasn’t ready.
Since it seems that the timing of the post is why they see it as a “generalized assault” (or at least that’s what the writing implies), hopefully my explanation helps to change that impression. Describing my post as a “generalized assault,” and later as an “attack,” in addition to being unnecessarily hyperbolic, seems to point to their main problem with my post, which is the belief that criticism=attack. I wonder when exactly the Argus editors would have liked for my post to be published, what language they would rather I had used, or what they would have considered a more acceptable topic of discussion, for any of my criticism to be seen as constructive and not malicious.
4) They ask if it is “really so brave and controversial to criticize the Argus.” Well, anybody who read the later comments to my post, or has taken a trip to the ACB in the past week, knows that I’ve been the subject of petty personal attacks as a result of the publishing of this post. And guess what? At least as I can tell from the Wesleying comments, these attacks are coming primarily from people who work for the Argus or are in close relationships with people who do. So, yes, it is brave to put yourself in such a position largely because certain (definitely not all!) Argus staff members and their friends have gone the route of high school histrionics and name-calling in response to my criticism. (Not to mention the few people for whom this is standard practice and have no affiliation to the newspaper.) It’s not easy to potentially go up against the entire staff of a newspaper. This isn’t meant to be a “woe is me” moment because I knew that this would happen and I also don’t take the nasty comments seriously, but I think it’s important to recognize that criticizing any institution is difficult. It’s not something I took lightly.
5) The first, and only, time my suggestion to print once a week is mentioned, it’s barely given any attention. Yes, the Argus is the oldest bi-weekly college newspaper in the country. That’s something to be proud of (I guess), but it’s a rather weak argument. Also, in regards to printing “news while it is still news”– that’s what the internet is for! The Argus has a fancy new website that students will visit if it’s established as supplementary to the print edition. Newspapers around the country are increasing their online presence and cutting back on print-related costs for many of the same reasons I think the Argus should.
6) To suggest that the Argus isn’t important to this campus or that they don’t do good work (most of the time) would be stupid. I’m glad that Suzanna and Ezra enumerated many of the ways that the Argus delivers as our main source of campus news. This is why we need to care about our newspaper.
7) Now, for their closing line: “We believe Wesleying can and should criticize The Argus when criticism is warranted. In this case, it was not.” First, Wesleying was not criticizing the Argus. I was. Second, I simply cannot agree that the target of criticism can independently determine whether criticism against it is warranted. This is an especially audacious statement considering how many commenters agreed that these issues are worth further exploring. You can’t dismiss everything I said because you don’t like that I said it.
Though I’m sure this will incite more ridiculousness in the comments, I hope to have at least partly succeeded in refocusing the discussion. I think the Argus needs to worry less about me and start listening to the readers they are here to serve.
[Edit, 9:18 PM]