An external review prompted by The Hoya‘s April Fools’ Issue yields 18 suggestions for improvement
About one year ago, Georgetown University’s Media Board issued five sanctions against The Hoya for its 2009 April Fools’ Issue. One of the sanctions directed The Hoya to pay for a third-party review of the newspaper by someone with a background in professional journalism, whom the Media Board would select. (Another sanction notably halted The Hoya‘s independence process by another school year, and for financial reasons, The Hoya will continue to remain a part of the University for the next school year, Voice news has reported.)
Media Board selected Dr. Byron P. White, the associate vice president community engagement of Xavier University, who was at one time the senior manager of community relations for the Chicago Tribune, editor of the Tribune‘s Urban Affairs Team, and a member of its editorial board, to review The Hoya‘s situation after the April Fools’ Issue.
This January, he submitted his conclusions, along with 18 suggestions for the improvement of the paper, to the administration, including suggestions to “broaden the pool of candidates for senior editor consideration beyond The Hoya staff”; “create an editor exchange program with publications that have more diverse staffs”; “assign editorial staff to routinely explore the ‘campus vibe'”; and “create an editorial advisory board” made up of faculty and student leaders who would meet with key editors twice a semester to discuss The Hoya‘s coverage of campus issues.
His recommendations, Hoya Editor-in-Chief Marissa Amedolia (COL ’11) said, also include many things that The Hoya was already trying to do to increase its staff’s diversity and improve its coverage of campus issues. (Read more in this week’s Voice News).
“We never dismissed any of his recommendations,” she said.
Chair of the Board Kevin Barber (COL ’11) added, “Nothing’s off the table.”
However, The Hoya seems unlikely to implement some of White’s more surprising recommendations, like his recommendation that the Editor in Chief be selected from outside The Hoya, or by a board independent of The Hoya.
“With the perspective of being on staff, knowing the history of the paper, and what works best for us,” she said, they probably will not implement those changes. She and Barber stressed again, however, that nothing was off the table, and that some of these more surprising recommendations had sparked some of the best discussions their staff had about White’s recommendations.
Writing, “The April Fool’s issue did tremendous damage to The Hoya’s credibility and exposed several underlying organizational weaknesses,” White concluded that “deliberate and sweeping steps must be taken to overcome these shortcomings. [M]any already have been initiated by The Hoya staff, Georgetown’s administration, and the university’s student body.”
After the jump is an abridged version of each of White’s recommendations, along with a full copy of the report he submitted to the University about the effects of the April Fools’ Issue.
White begins by commenting on The Hoya’s staff, writing, “There is no doubt that building a more diverse staff would offer the most immediate and
dramatic impact on moving The Hoya toward its renewed objectives …. The Hoya’s most obvious deficiency in this area, as its leaders readily acknowledge, has been its inability to consistently hire and retain a staff that represents a broad spectrum of backgrounds and cultures, particularly along racial and ethnic lines.”
“The Hoya does not need more African American students so that they can cover issues affecting African Americans more accurately,” he continued. “Rather, every writer for The Hoya should able to cover African American issues with integrity. As it turns out, such competence is best achieved when staff members have the privilege of experiencing the daily exchange—and tensions—that come from interacting with a diverse group of colleagues.”
To make their efforts to recruit and retain a diverse staff more successful, White wrote, The Hoya should:
- “Challenge staff members to become active ambassadors for the paper with specific goals for recruitment …. Now more than ever, the current staff members should be encouraged—even
incentivized—to reach to peers in their social networks …. The negative perceptions of The Hoya are being disseminated through the viral interaction of people who know and trust each other. If any new perceptions are going to emerge, they will have to infiltrate this exchange through a new set of interpersonal connections.”
- “Make an appeal for leadership, not representation. It is tempting to make the pitch to students from groups who traditionally do not seek employment at The Hoya based upon their racial, ethnic or cultural persuasion alone. The appeal essentially goes, “Come join us and bring us the inside information about your cultural group that we’ve been missing.” Such a petition is narrow and ultimately unappealing …. They should be invited, therefore, to join to become leaders rather than informants.”
- “Make a lasting first impression with students of color by partnering with multicultural efforts to recruit students to Georgetown or welcome them when they arrive.”
White then questions the wisdom behind allowing members of the paper to elect their own leadership.
“This exclusively internal process limits the opportunity for The Hoya to experience the dramatic impact that comes from infusions of a more diverse leadership corps. In fact, it is very hard to change a culture that essentially reproduces leaders who are nurtured by and ascend through that very same culture,” he writes. “Under these conditions, it is likely that staff members will choose someone just like themselves. Consequently, the leader is more beholden to maintaining the status quo than to instituting radical change.”
As remedies, he suggests:
- “Establish a Hoya Publishing Board to select the Editor in Chief. The Publishing Board would be made up of representatives from various constituencies on campus who value the newspaper’s role and function, including The Hoya staff, the Media Board, the Georgetown student body (or specific student organizations), the administration, the faculty, and members of the external community.”
- “Broaden the pool of candidates for senior editor consideration beyond The Hoya staff. It has been tradition for senior editors to “climb the ranks” through the newspaper in order to serve in a senior leadership position. However, the challenges at recruiting and retaining a diverse staff at the entry-level almost guarantees that the senior ranks will be the last area where diversity takes hold. The irony is that a more diverse senior staff would dramatically increase the potential to recruit and retain students from underrepresented groups on campus. A way to address this is for the Editor in Chief to actively pursue qualified students of color who have developed journalistic skills through experiences outside The Hoya.”
- “Create an editor exchange program with publications that have more diverse staffs and that are not in direct competition with The Hoya for readership and advertising revenue. Such exchanges would mean editors of partner publications would serve in leadership roles at The Hoya on a temporary or part-time basis—and Hoya staff would do the same for the partner organization.”
- “Allow the editor to select his or her senior staff. These innovations in the selection of senior staff can only be implemented if the Editor in Chief has authority to select senior editors, rather than leaving that responsibility to a staff vote.”
White also commented on the way The Hoya trains its staff.
“The Hoya’s goals around diversity and inclusion, therefore, must be incorporated into formal and informal operational practices that are understood and adhered to by all staff. These practices should cover staff relations, news coverage and business operations,” he wrote. He also added, “Much has been done over the past several months by The Hoya’s staff to address organizational deficiencies that were revealed by the April Fool’s issue …. However, these initiatives will be one-time events unless they are rooted in a set of ground rules that articulate why such measures are necessary in the first place.”
- “Produce a clearly worded statement of purpose that declares what The Hoya’s value is to the university community at the broadest level. The statement should incorporate aspects of inclusion and diversity as essential to achieving this broader purpose.”
- “Revise or establish a policy manual that defines a set of office practices for all important aspects of the operation required to fulfill the statement of purpose. The policies should coverthe most critical aspects of the organization.”
- “Establish a set of protocols that allows staff to challenge questionable editorial practices, even during final production. Such protocols should provide a mechanism for staff members to raise concerns with senior editors without fear of retribution.”
- “Establish a series of workshops that assist staff in upholding workplace policies around inclusion and diversity as it relates to interpersonal relationships. Such sessions could include continuing training in cultural competency provided by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action.”
- “Provide skills training that explores practical application of journalistic principles in the context of multicultural realities.”
- “Develop a training module that promotes the “business case” for diversity, particularly for non-editorial staff. This training should explore the opportunities to increase advertising revenue, readership and other business-related goals—beyond just social and editorial objectives—as The Hoya succeeds in reaching a more diverse audience.”
Finally, White said that The Hoya needed to make a greater effort to engage the campus community, particularly groups who typically don’t commune with The Hoya on a regularly basis.
“The most fundamental way for The Hoya to reach out is through its news coverage. The paper’s coverage, however, is also its greatest source of mistrust. Overcoming this burden will require drastic, visible steps.”
- “Create an editorial advisory board made up of faculty, representatives from organizations across the campus community, and journalism professionals who have an interest in seeing The Hoya meet its objectives of providing more comprehensive coverage of the University …. the advisory board should meet at least twice a semester to discuss coverage with key editors. It should have no authority over editorial decision-making.”
- “Assign editorial staff to explore the ‘campus vibe’ without the pressure of producing stories. As an example, each week a few reporters might be assigned to go places they might not otherwise go—sitting in on student organization meetings, listening to speakers on campus, attending parties or social gatherings – and engage in conversations with people outside their social network.”
- “Establish an Executive Editor for Community Relations position whose responsibility it is to develop and maintain relationships with key constituencies on campus in order to inform the staff of journalistic opportunities that broaden coverage, and to provide greater public transparency to newspaper operations.”
- “Conduct a content audit of The Hoya’s news coverage using a tool such as The Maynard Institute’s Reality Check’s web-based system (http://www.mije.org/realitychecks). The audit would provide direction as to specific objectives around coverage in the future.”
- “Create opportunities for the broader community to experience The Hoya’s internal operations. Life at The Hoya is something of a mystery to most students on campus. Interpretations of how the paper is produced and how decisions are made often are based on uninformed perceptions. As Hoya leaders gain confidence in their ability to run a highly functioning operation, they should invite university representatives—especially those from skeptical constituencies—into the newspaper’s inner circle. This might involve allowing them to sit in on Page One meetings, observe Thursday night production, or look on as stories are edited.”
Photo by Helen Burton