Letter from the editor: How the Collegian will serve you.
My name is Noah Dantes (he/him) and I am serving as this year’s Collegian editor-in-chief. It’s already almost October, but I wanted to take the time to introduce myself, talk about the changes the Collegian has made in recent months and make clear what the Willamette community can expect from its paper this year.
I recognize that the Collegian has a trust deficit with the Willamette community that has been directly caused by the Collegian’s past actions. I understand that over the years, the paper has misrepresented information and stories, used harmful language in print, favored certain subject matters and opinions, mishandled sensitive situations and more. The Collegian’s core responsibility is to serve the entire Willamette community, and many of our past actions have not been in line with that mission. We are doing everything in our power to rebuild community trust in us by taking steps to position the paper to serve Willamette the way it deserves: by taking considered and deliberate actions to improve the Collegian’s culture and systems with our core responsibility in mind.
This summer, the previous editor-in-chief, this year’s exec team and I wrote the Collegian’s first policy handbook and a new, publicly viewable mission statement, both of which can be found on our website under the “About” tab. As part of hiring, all staff members have read and signed their agreement to both, and both were reviewed live during fall’s trainings. The policy handbook and mission statement will serve as a guide for our decision making and will hold all at the Collegian accountable, including myself and the exec team. This is not to say the Collegian will no longer make mistakes—they are bound to happen, no matter how many policies we create. I promise to handle all mistakes with respect and transparency, supported by the policies outlined on our website. Willamette offers no journalism program, so the Collegian is a learning opportunity for all that join it. We appreciate your patience and hope you stick with us as we learn and grow.
Three years ago, the Collegian hired Len Reed, a professional journalist, to be its journalistic consultant. Importantly, he does not make decisions for the paper, but rather provides advice and lessons on journalistic best practices. The commitment and thoughtfulness of the last couple editor-in-chiefs, helped by Len’s guidance, have fueled a slow but methodical rebuilding and improvement of the paper over the last three years. As the new editor-in-chief, this is a trend I will continue. I promise not to become complacent or be content with “good enough,” but rather continually push the paper to grow and build on everything that’s come before. I recognize that despite the progress the paper has made, there remains much more work and learning to be done.
The Collegian was challenged by COVID-19 this year, like every other organization on the planet. In response, we have moved away from the print edition, at least for the fall semester. While this change is saddening for many, including myself, I believe this change has allowed the Collegian to better serve the Willamette community.
Before, the website was viewed as secondary to print; the website’s sole purpose was to digitalize what was already being put in print. The Collegian’s entire system was geared around what worked best for our printing schedule, which was a strict weekly writing schedule. This is despite the fact that some articles on our underdeveloped website last year got between 1,000 and 2,000 clicks. The website has always had the capability of reaching more people than our print edition will ever be able to. A new website was built from scratch over the summer and internal discussions on design and improved outreach are ongoing, but we’ve changed more than just our website. This change in thinking, that we are online first and only, fueled a number of systemic changes, mainly surrounding the writing and publication schedule.
The overarching goal is to have a “living” website. This means that when one opens up the website, they see current news, rather than a slew of articles from the previous Wednesday with nothing since. In line with this goal, we have done away with the old strict weekly writing schedule and Wednesday website article dump. Now, articles are uploaded as they become ready on all days of the week. Each article has its own publication timeline, ranging from just a day to three weeks. Timelines are now more flexible since there is no set amount of content that needs to be produced on a weekly basis, since there is no physical paper to fill the empty space of. Before, the Collegian had to contend with the fact it had eight pages to fill every week and none of them could be left blank.
Additionally, there is no longer an article size requirement. Articles can be as short as a single sentence to as long as 2,000 words. In the days of print, all articles had to be long enough to fill the empty space in its section, but short enough so that its section didn’t go above its allotted space limit. This change encourages writer creativity and flexibility, and does away with any filler.
This changed writing and publication schedule helps the Collegian better serve its readers for two reasons. First, it allows us to be timely: we now publish information when we know it and have it ready, rather than only on Wednesdays with the print edition. Second, it empowers staff to produce better content. The Collegian went online-only due to COVID-19, and may return to the print edition when safe to do so—but even if print resumes, the paper will remain online first, print second. This is because our new writing schedule and systems empower the paper to better serve the entire Willamette community.
Timeliness and accuracy, while vital before, are even more important during the time of COVID-19. It is a terrible and challenging time globally, which makes strong journalism more important now than ever. Willamette students, faculty, administrators, employees, alumni and parents all deserve to have issues and matters that concern them covered accurately, promptly and impartially by the Collegian. As editor-in-chief, this is a responsibility I promise to take seriously and uphold. Beyond this promise, you can expect the paper to continue to improve through constant reassessment and proactive decision making. We will make mistakes along the way, as we are student journalists, but we will take responsibility for them and learn from them. Improvement is our goal, and I hope you’ll stick with us while we strive towards it.
My inbox is always open for any thoughts, questions, concerns or tips you may have. I look forward to continuing to work with the Collegian’s staff this year to produce content that serves you.