Last week at Arthur’s editorial elections, I was served with a poignant reminder of how easily an emphasis on procedure can get in the way of vision.
One of first the questions posed to Pat and I that night concerned our overarching vision for the newspaper:
Your platform seems to be excessively administrative, began the questioner. It doesn’t say much about what you actually think about the paper.
The comment caught me off guard.
In our editorial platform, published in issue 23, Pat and I tried to outline in as much detail as possible the kinds of initiatives and changes that we plan to bring to Arthur for volume 49.
We wanted to give the board, staff collective, and university community a clear understanding of what they could expect next year. To me at least, the vision was self-evident.
Upon reflection, however, the questioner was right. The focus on administrative detail meant that we were unable to convey our ideas and beliefs about Arthur’s role within the university community. In crafting our platform we committed perhaps the gravest of all political missteps: being all policy, no pizzazz.
In my first year at this newspaper I penned several “Retro-Arthur” articles that allowed me to dig into the archives and pull out various moth-balled tidbits from Arthur’s younger years.
During this process I stumbled across the very first issue of Arthur (then called The Stentorian) which laid out the founding editors’ original vision for this paper. Writing in this space almost forty-nine years ago they declared that:
“[The] intent is to provide reporting and comments on [university] events of immediate concern and to act as a major organ of communication and publicity for individuals and organizations… We feel that the reporting of [university] activities to be essential to our function as a news medium.”
Close to five decades after these words were published I strongly believe that they still accurately reflect the core mandate of this paper.
From my perspective, Arthur is first and foremost a community newspaper. Therefore, its primary mission is to inform its constituents of the events and activities that occur within its communities. In my mind Arthur should provide community members with the best possible coverage and analysis of the goings-on within Trent University and Peterborough.
As someone who has spent the past four years covering campus and local affairs for Arthur, to me this means devoting more time and more space to covering the political decisions, current events, and interest-stories of both our university and our city.
Next year is Trent University’s 50th anniversary, we will have a new president, we will have a new food provider, the fate of the student centre will be (finally) decided, program prioritization will begin, and there are already rumblings of collegiate restructuring. I believe that covering these important issues, along the multitude of others that will undoubtedly arise, is indeed “essential to our function as a news medium.”
All that being said, however. I also believe that a strong community newspaper constitutes more than just a collection of reportage. Rather, Arthur must strive to be an inclusive and accessible forum for community opinion. It should provide citizens a place to discuss, criticize, complain, and debate the issues that are important to them.
Arthur has a local circulation of 3000 newspapers and is read actively by Trent students, faculty, alumni, administrators, Peterborough citizens, and even people from across Canada and around the world via our website. These same people are also our contributors and for them Arthur serves as the megaphone through which they can make their voices heard.
To conclude, I want to share a quote from Canadian literary giant Robertson Davies that has been rattling around in my head all day. In his acclaimed novel Fifth Business, Davies, who was once a respected editor of the Peterborough Examiner, remarks that “any proper local newspaper” should be both “hated and respected.”
I’m not entirely sure that this describes my vision for Arthur, but make of it what you will.
Best of luck with exams (to both students and faculty), have a productive and enjoyable summer, and I will talk to you again in this space come September.