It’s a slippery slope, and independence, if possible, is a necessity in producing a trustworthy publication. Imagine, for instance, if a journalism professor was fired for having a romantic relationship with a student (like what happened at UNC two years ago). What if that professor had ties with the newspaper? It would likely result in self-censorship without anyone really thinking about it. Through our status as an independent non-profit, as well as the hands-off approach of our general manager and newsroom adviser, we’re able to aim more closely at objectivity. It might not always be as pretty as a lab paper, but it when it comes time to inform the public and the rubber meets the road (like when you have to sue the University) independence is your best friend.
2. The current state of college media. While that might sound backward, given the race to the bottom in advertising revenue, there have never been more avenues available for content production. Through the website and a lively social media presence, we’re able to give breaking news to the DTH’s readers in a matter of seconds.
But, more compellingly, the agility and flexibility of the web frees up the print product, which still has enough demand to exist. I read at a museum today that Picasso believed the newspaper was an artistic medium. That idea has never had a greater potential for fulfillment than today. I admit to knowing embarrassingly little about news design (you’d have to talk to Ariana Rodriguez-Gitler, Kevin Uhrmacher or Allie Russell for that) but I appreciate its potential.
Example: When thinking about how to cover this year’s election results, we knew we wanted to do something different. So while the rest of the college media world ran wire photos of Obama’s victory, we ran an illustration that was days in the making (we even had an alternate prepared). I saw this as a smashing success, and it illustrates the freedom afforded by this digital age. In addition, with demand declining for the print product, the approach of newspaper-as-art might well be the most promising.
3. Tireless opponents of crippling, 21st century bureaucracy. Everybody says they love the First Amendment, but few are willing to fight tooth and nail, hand in hand with news organizations, in pursuit of open and accountable government. For an example of how willingly people will shed their former love for a free press, look no further than the comments on a DTH editor’s column explaining why the newspaper was suing UNC for public records (which we eventually won).
The foremost example of ally to the free press is Frank LoMonte, head of the Student Press Law Center. In the words of DTH general manager Kevin Schwartz, Frank’s an evangelist of the First Amendment, constantly counseling college newspapers across the nation who are under fire from overzealous administrations. Also deserving of praise are members of university administration committed to openness (though they sometimes seem to be scant), faculty and staff eager to hold the administration accountable and our lawyers, always a last resort.
4. The DTH’s editing staff. I can’t pass up the opportunity to say I’m thankful for every editor who surrenders more than 40 hours of his or her week, every week, to help keep the Chapel Hill community informed. I’ll never fully understand such masochism, but I appreciate it immensely nonetheless.