In the Soviet Union, the Politburo of the Communist Party was the highest policy-making body. It determined the direction of all matters of state, ranging from agricultural quotas to propaganda output. By carefully hand-selecting their successors from committee to committee, Politburo members ensured a narrow continuity of opinion, rendering meaningful dissent all but impossible.
Unfortunately, Spectator's managing board more and more closely resembles the Politburo of the Soviet Union. Yesterday, Spectator's corporate board announced the restructuring of the editorial board: Once made up of participants in student government, Greek life, other campus publications, activist groups, and a variety of cultural communities, the editorial board is now comprised wholly of Spectator's managing board, the top editors from all of Spectator's sections. By appointing the managing board arbiter of "Spectator's voice," Spectator runs the risk of isolating itself from the student body it purports to serve.
Our concerns are twofold. First, the inclusion of Spectator's news editors and business representatives—publisher, deputy publisher, and perhaps most egregiously, revenue director—is a dangerous breach of basic journalistic ethics. And second, while we acknowledge the intention to authentically embody the "voice" of Spectator, we question the value of this voice in its newest incarnation to the broader Columbia community.
It doesn't take much creativity to imagine the problems that arise when news reporters, responsible for objectively conveying the news, start voicing their editorial opinions. There is a requisite level of trust between reporters, their subjects, and their readers, without which an organization like Spectator could not feasibly achieve its mission. And yet, if a reporter opines on the very issues she's investigating, she'll quickly find it difficult to remain impartial. Moreover, sources may feel uncomfortable speaking to news editors whose individual opinions contribute to "Spectator's voice." Any self-aware effort by news editors to avoid alienating sources and members of the student body might lead to self-censorship, effectively neutering staff editorials in the interest of maintaining source relations. Simply put, news editors shouldn't be in the business of editorializing: Those who oversee the news should not comment on it.
We also fear that the change will result in staff editorials that are overly predicated on news coverage. Last semester, our editorial board set out to criticize the conduct of Robert Earl, the embattled director of the Barnard Career Development Office. While collecting input for the piece, members of the news team repeatedly offered anecdotes from their reporting for use in our editorial—anecdotes which, by their own admission, were not up to snuff for inclusion in their news article. This kind of contribution is practically institutionalized in the new editorial board structure, in which the participation of news editors is expected and legitimized. The erosion of the divide between Spectator's news and opinion sections could make staff editorials deteriorate into a dumping ground for that which the news team is unable to sufficiently source.
It's an open secret at Columbia that a position on Spectator's managing board is essentially a full-time job. A cursory glance at the profiles of the 140th editorial board reveals a diversity in academic pursuits, musical tastes, and heights, but it also exposes a not-so-startling similarity in extracurricular activities: Everyone on Spectator's managing board commits a lot of time to Spectator. This raises the question: To what extent can a group of Spectator staffers—two of whom describe themselves as majoring in Spec—offer diverse insights into the issues that matter to the broader Columbia community?
In the past, the editorial board was a means by which students could infiltrate the "institution" and provide perspectives that may have been lacking amongst those involved in the production of the paper. Without this diversity in opinion, where does this leave the "voice" of Spectator?
Last semester, Spectator engaged in public self-flagellation over the lack of diversity amongst its staffers in the form of Spectator's Diversity in Media Conference. Granted, to put it mildly, Spectator's editorial board hasn't been a paragon of diversity. However, there's no denying that the old structure was an open door for underrepresented portions of the student body. Given this new iteration of the editorial board, even with vigorous, targeted recruitment, it may be years until the Columbia community is truly well represented in Spectator's managing board, and now, consequently, "Spectator's voice." Even in light of intense professions of guilt over a lack of diversity at Spectator, actions speak louder than words.
Within Spectator and outside of it, this editorial may raise questions about our intention, and our proximity and loyalty to the "institution" of Spectator. But this opinion piece, we think, falls into the noble tradition of critiquing those institutions that matter to us. All of us have enjoyed our time on Spectator's 139th editorial board, and we recognize that our speaking out on this issue might be construed as self-aggrandizing. However, we write not in an effort to regain our positions but to call attention to the ways in which these changes will detract from the quality of staff editorials and news articles, and ultimately, the value of Spectator to its readers.
We hope that the 139th editorial board is not the last to extend its reach across the Columbia community.
The authors are members of Spectator's 139th editorial board.
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