Letter from the Editor: Reflections on a year of turmoil at The Beacon

By Charlie McKenna

Almost a year ago this week, The Beacon was rocked by controversy. Nearly 20 staff members resigned. The paper faced fury from within its ranks and from the Emerson campus. All of it was deserved — we had screwed up. Royally. 

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, in this case, was a story about an Emerson student named Gina Martin, whose father cut her off in the wake of her public support for Black Lives Matter. Rather than centering on the Black Lives Matter movement, the article focused on the situation of an individual white student, redirecting attention away from the ongoing fight for racial justice and Black lives both within our campus and nationwide. 

The Beacon’s staff, at the time overwhelmingly white, compounded the issue by not seeking the perspectives of students of color on Emerson’s campus and then not taking concerns raised at the moment as seriously as they could have. 

In the months since we’ve done quite a bit to work on ourselves. We have more to do and more changes are underway. We overhauled our constitution, implementing a new, more democratic selection process for the paper’s leadership, and mandated bias training for all of our staff members. These are small steps, but important ones. 

We’ve also formed an advisory board of professional journalists from diverse backgrounds to help look over stories that cover sensitive topics like racism, sexism, homophobia, and more. 

But if you’ve been reading The Beacon, you knew all that already. So what do I have to share?

Well, in the interest of full transparency, not a lot. Our coverage moving forward will have to speak for itself — the stories we choose, the sources we seek out, will have to do the talking for us.  We hope to do so by recognizing where we’ve fallen short in the past — with an audit of our prior coverage. We intend to release the results by the end of this month. This is an initiative we plan to resume in the coming weeks, and a process we will continue for years to come. 

We continue to strive to diversify our staff and coverage. Already gone are the days when white men dominated The Beacon’s ranks (I am the only white man on the editorial board and none of the paper’s section editors are white men.)

Unlike my predecessors — I’m relatively new to The Beacon. I became a full-time staff member in February 2020 and had been in our newsroom three times before Fall 2020. 

The Beacon I know has worked hard to improve itself and to try and reach corners of the community we hadn’t before. I’ve seen Diti Kohli and Katie Redefer, the two editors before me, agonize over decisions and work hard to make The Beacon a better, more hospitable place. All I can hope to do is follow in their footsteps. 

Can The Beacon be a better place than it is right now? Absolutely. Am I going to fix every single one of the problems this paper faces? Absolutely not. But I’m going to try my best. 

I want to once again extend an apology to all of those that The Beacon has harmed in the past —you deserved better from your student newspaper. Though for those of you who we’ve hurt I do hope you’ll give this staff a chance to change your minds about this paper — I believe they will do some really incredible work.