Letter from the Editor: The case for a fair and equitable Beacon

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Photo: Beacon archives

Katie Redefer is a senior journalism major and the Editor-in-Chief of The Berkeley Beacon.

By Katie Redefer, Staff Writer

Last semester, after The Beacon drew a wave of public criticisms and staff resignations, it made me question everything I know about journalism. Prior to this fall, I looked back on my years at The Beacon through rose-colored glasses. I wrote and edited more stories than I ever thought possible. I met countless student contributors, whose love for reporting inspired me. I watched those same students grow into robust journalists, and some landed the jobs of their dreams.

But after Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform (POWER) published a letter in September saying one of our stories “amplified the voice of a white ally and, in the process, diminished the voices of BIPOC students,” I realized The Beacon I had come to love had more flaws than I knew. 

In the weeks that followed, I considered how easily I had risen in ranks of the paper, while some talented students from different backgrounds did not have the same experience. I thought about the times staffers raised concerns over editorial decisions at our staff meetings, only to be pushed aside. I realized that even if I have the best intentions with my reporting and editing, I still have inherent biases as a white person that impact my worldview, and I need to confront those biases routinely. I felt disappointed in myself for not seeing these problems sooner, and instead continuing to exist in an unfair environment.

Everyone deserves a fair chance to succeed at The Beacon. Anything short of that is unacceptable. Here’s what we’re working on right now to improve the issues within our organization:

  • The Beacon management team finalized an advisory board of five professionals this month, as dictated under our newly-ratified constitution, and are consulting them for guidance on this paper’s edition. This currently includes Meghan Irons, Bianca Vázquez Toness, Lisa Williams, Anthony Miller, and Greg Lee. It’s my hope this professional guidance from BIPOC journalists will help us to responsibly report on issues of diversity, like racism and ableism. 
  • We are finalizing the first content audit of many to identify weakness in our coverage, like lack of BIPOC sources used or misleading photos. It covers more than 1,000 stories published between Fall 2019 through Fall 2020. The final report in the coming weeks will explore successes and shortcomings in more depth. Admittedly, we did not finish the audit over the break as we had hoped. But we have completed more than half the stories at hand. We want to ensure the final product is comprehensive before we release our findings, giving each story of the hundreds we’ve read through the critical eye they deserve. We will complete an audit of every semester’s content in the future.
  • The Beacon invited back Robert Amelio, a diversity and inclusion consultant who previously was Emerson’s director of diversity and inclusion excellence, at the advice of the Social Justice Center. Robert will hold two bias training sessions for the entire staff and one session just for the managing editors to encourage additional productive conversations about bias in our newsroom.
  • The Beacon is incorporating the Diversity Style Guide into the Beacon Style Guide, as mandated by our constitution, in order to ensure our writers use of proper language when reporting on marginalized communities.
  • We successfully appointed our new editor-in-chief and managing editors through more democratic processes. This includes a staff-wide election process for EIC, while a board with editors from every section appointed the managing editors. 

Life goes on at Emerson. COVID-19 will still impact campus life; the college will still raise our tuition; and the systemic injustices within the college will persist. We are here to report on these issues, to shine a light on these harsh realities, to give the people a news source independent from the college’s control, and to call on our community to create change.

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I know how good The Beacon can be. There are countless students who had positive experiences at The Beacon. The work we do as reporters is essential to a well-informed community. Through a series of concrete actions, I hope I can increase the positive influences The Beacon has, while minimizing the harm we have caused in the process.

It is not my intention to undermine criticisms of The Beacon by saying this. It’s important to note that if we are not serving all members of the community fairly, then we are not serving our true purpose. The Beacon does have institutional problems, and we cannot continue to exist without addressing them. But the first step in making positive change is accepting responsibility. 

For this reason, I, like Diti Kohli, our last Editor-in-Chief, extend my sincerest apology to any former or current staffers that have been hurt by The Beacon—especially to those who felt neglected because of their race, ethnicity, disability status, or gender. We had many opportunities to fix our institutional problems before the fall but failed to do so in the timeframe we intended. We are committed to correcting these wrongs. 

I also apologize to our readers. Our coverage fell short in properly addressing sensitive issues, especially regarding race and disability. We hope to demonstrate through our actions that we are committed to becoming a more reliable source of information for everyone.

One lesson I learned in the fall: the biggest truths are often uncomfortable to accept. I want to express my genuine gratitude to our former staffers that spoke publicly about their experiences. It is not easy to speak up, and if we ever want to create a Beacon that offers fair opportunities for all students, then we need to listen to everyone.

I invite anyone with criticisms, questions, or suggestions for The Beacon to attend our monthly town hall meetings. These meetings are intended to give the public a space to provide feedback on The Beacon. We intend to listen to and address all future criticisms. Our first town hall will be on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m., which anyone can join via Zoom. These open forums will continue throughout the semester, occuring on the fourth Thursday of every month. Access information and the complete schedule can be found on EmConnect

Everyone who works at The Beacon deserves the positive experience I had, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or disability status. My staff and I are dedicated to actualizing this fairer, more equitable future for The Beacon. We hope to earn your support.