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Fixing The D: Some Ideas
A recent alum writes in with some ideas about improving The Dartmouth. This new contributor to Dartblog was inspired by Ester Cross’ frank piece about the poisonous internal workings of the College’s paper of record:
The D has a storied history and for many years it was a top-notch college newspaper. That hasn’t been the case for a while. The D would be well served to take steps to produce higher quality journalism — especially efforts that help hold the College accountable for mismanagement. Over the past couple of decades, the paper has done almost nothing genuinely hard-hitting to educate its readers about Dartmouth’s missteps and to advocate for concrete improvements. It would be great to see that observation change! There are so many smart, ambitious students who could pull this off. Here are some reforms I’d recommend:
● Publish only three days a week, if that’s what it would take to focus on higher quality and long-form journalism (especially on Dartmouth’s financial missteps). The D’s current ‘product’ is subpar: e.g., copy editing is often sloppy and reporters lazily trust the propaganda they’re spoon-fed by the College’s PR apparatus. Good journalism takes time and resources. If that comes at the expense of churning out a paper each and every day, then so be it.
● Appoint an Ombudsman whose work is regularly published and who reports to an oversight board rather than to the Editor-in-Chief. Virtually every alum and faculty member has a story about The D misquoting someone or taking comments grossly out of context in order to fit a preconceived narrative. The D is extremely reluctant to retract errors and issue corrections: it should be proud to do so, or at least cooperative and willing. A good paper knows its credibility is critical to long term success. Appointing an Ombudsman who is truly empowered to hold The D accountable for its mistakes would be a great start.
● Expedite the article comments approval process. Clearly there are a lot of very smart students and alums who have good insights to contribute, and The D’s comments section is their only platform. No one wins when it takes six hours or more each day for the first comments to show up.
● Refuse to publish asinine op-eds just because the author is writing about a serious and controversial topic, especially from a “victim’s” perspective. To be sure, Dartmouth has plenty of progress to make on issues of race, class, and gender, and people with meaningful, rational perspectives should be encouraged to go public with their views. But anyone interested in engaging on these topics must be expected to provide at least some evidence for his or her assertions. Take a passage like this:
I no longer think twice about moving aside as my white counterparts walk past me on the sidewalk, because despite the right that I have to walk there, I always end up being forced to the side or risk being hit or run over.
I mean, come on. It’s simply reckless to publish something like this. The D should refuse to let ideologically-inclined contributors rake the coals of controversy without providing logically assembled facts to support their point of view. An editor is a gatekeeper: don’t let the ideologues from either left or right run past you; they just pour gasoline over everything and don’t elevate the conversation to a higher, more constructive plane.
● Encourage reporters to develop contacts inside the administration. Dartblog’s success is largely rooted in having established dozens of close relationships with people who see mismanagement first-hand, willingly voice their concerns, and help make the College better. Insiders with information need people on The D to act like professional journalists: e.g. maintain confidentiality, find ways to verify data, and publish findings fearlessly without being deterred by potential retribution from people like Charlotte Johnson.
● Bring in alumni with successful careers in journalism to teach master classes to up-and-coming student reporters. How cool would it be to learn how to track down primary sources — both people and data — and meaningfully analyze complex information from prominent journalists like Jake Tapper ‘91 and David Shipler ‘64?
● Don’t let freshmen write regular op-eds. They don’t realize how much they don’t know, and they too often write articles that are a waste of a reader’s time and make The D look like an amateur operation.
● Bring in professors/other professionals who can teach student reporters how to understand complicated financial documents. Data is only as good as one’s ability to parse it. Good journalism is rooted in understanding how money moves around the institution you’re covering.
● Redesign the website (it’s been a while) and embrace digital media, including social. The D isn’t even on Instagram. It’s 2013, folks: get with it. Look at the New York Times as an example of a traditional paper that has improved its digital prowess substantially over the last couple of years. (Here’s one excellent example). Recruit smart people who are taking lots of CS classes and/or just buy third party products. There are a lot of excellent free ones out there, just to start off. There are many ways to supplement traditional text-based reporting with digital representations of data and other graphic exhibits; currently I don’t see anything more in The D than banal Excel-generated pie charts, if that.
● The Mirror is very well designed and it has been home, year after year, to some of the best writers at The D. Cross-pollination, friends. Why don’t you make the rest of the paper as good as the Mirror? Excellence should not remain compartmentalized like this.
● Eliminate the politics and cronyism surrounding the Executive Editor and Editor-in-Chief positions. How about putting those roles up to a vote by the entire editorial staff, and/or asking alumni to vet candidates?
The D could be a tremendous asset to the College as Dartmouth seeks to regain an upward trajectory after years of decay. To do so would only take a few current staffers who are willing to trust each other and make some positive changes.
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…