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For those of you readers who watch this space, you may have noticed the handover that took place over the summer. After ably serving as The News-Letter’s first Public Editor, Jacob Took graduated and has now joined the staff of The Cecil Whig and The Newark Post.
I’m telling you right now. It’s going to happen. A message request on Facebook from someone you have mutual friends with but swear you’ve never seen before. A text out of the blue from a number with an unfamiliar area code. An email with a subject line like “URGENT: interview request.”
Editor’s Note: This article, filed August 26, discusses some of the reporting efforts that went into the August 27 article “No updates on Stieff Silver building noose incident after a month.”
Today, the future looks uncertain, and the conditions of life seem untenable. This is what it means to live in times of crisis. And in times such as these, the journalist’s highest form of service is to faithfully deliver to the public whatever measure of clarity and understanding that they can. But to do that, they need the public’s trust. They need to have earned it in the past, and to have kept earning it ever since.
As I prepared to tread the path of Public Editor, I searched for signposts which would show me the way. I connected with other public editors, considering their ideas in the context of The News-Letter. I read journal articles about the ethics of the reader representative role and studies about how journalism’s audience shifted in the digital age. I pored over our past issues to understand the history underpinning the paper’s coverage of Hopkins students.
Editors gathered on the Wednesday before spring break to put together a final print issue before The News-Letter shifted temporarily to online publication. Hopkins had announced the suspension of in-person activities through mid-April the night before due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), but editors were uncertain when they would be able to return to the Gatehouse, the home of the newspaper’s production.
When the current editors of The News-Letter went through election interviews last April, nobody asked them how they would adapt their roles to a global pandemic. A year ago, no one imagined life as we know it changing so drastically. Even a month ago, the extent of the effort required to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was only starting to sink in.
Restrictions on student groups. Spring Fair restructuring. Progress on (and ongoing opposition to) a private police force. Not long ago, we thought these were among the year’s biggest stories. Then came one headline to top them all: Students sent home.
Readers have recently seen some of the paper’s first coverage of the protests in Hong Kong, a clash between demonstrators and state forces over China’s executive authority in the city. Though these protests having been happening since last June, they didn’t reach Homewood Campus until Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, two activist leaders of the Hong Kong movement, spoke at Shriver Hall on an invitation from the Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS).
If you even casually flipped through last week’s paper, you probably noticed the stunningly striking photo essay, “Frozen land: scenes from the Swedish mountaintops.” What you may not have noticed, though, was that the photographer’s name appeared elsewhere in the issue alongside photos assigned to articles. Yes, please join me in extending a warmest welcome to the paper’s newest contributing photographer.
You’re a Hopkins student.
What is Your Weekend?
You may have noticed an unusual byline in last week’s Voices section — Arden Arquette, a name laden with literary whimsy, appeared beneath a silhouetted headshot. Read the title, ‘Ask Arden,’ and the pieces come together — The News-Letter has an anonymous advice column.
Here we are, halfway through another school year. To my Hopkins readers, congratulations! You’ve made it this far. Stick it out, and Spring Fair will be right around the corner before you know it. To my readers in Baltimore and around the world, thanks for joining me as I tackle another semester at The News-Letter through your eyes.
When I started recording data on the number of different types of perspectives represented in The News-Letter, I wanted to give editors a benchmark to measure the scope of each week. That’s not to say they should always strive to increase these numbers — at some point, the paper will reach critical mass and just be too full. Instead, I hope it can offer a new way to track coverage from one week to the next.
A firm press deadline can feel like the end-all be-all for News-Letter reporters in the run-up to Wednesday night. The news editors wrap up their section and head home sometime early Thursday morning while the Editors-in-Chief send the pages off to print. If they’re lucky, the news team will have time to breathe over the weekend until Wednesday starts to loom again.
As the Public Editor, I scrutinize the ways the paper represents its readers. The News-Letter is a campus newspaper, and undergraduate students make up the primary readership. I think a lot about the different types of undergrads that the paper represents, as well as who is most likely to pick up a fresh issue on a Thursday afternoon.
I’ve written a lot in the last month about the importance of print journalism — the tactile pleasure of turning fine pages over beneath your fingers, the permanence (and accountability) of seeing words enshrined in ink on paper.
After three and a half years at The News-Letter, I’m pretty confident that I’d ace a quiz on the parts of the paper’s front page. Even just above the fold — what we call the top half that’s visible when you see the paper around campus — there’s already a lot going on:
Four and a half years ago, the University shut down the Hopkins chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon after reports of sexual assault at one of the fraternity’s parties. In an editorial headlined “SAE suspension wrong, requires reversal,” The News-Letter called the decision “draconian,” prompting understandable pushback from readers.