Letter from the Editor: Where we’re at and what we still have to do

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Media: Courtesy of Diti Kohli

Diti Kohli is the Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon.

By Diti Kohli, Editor-in-Chief

The Beacon’s first print issue of the semester in early September initiated a wave of resignations from almost 20 staff members. Some felt deeply mistreated and silenced by our newsroom’s culture. They rightly took issue with several stories going back years that hurt or mischaracterized marginalized communities. Others left in solidarity, choosing not to stay at a paper that repeatedly wronged their peers.

In the 11 weeks since, our remaining reporters, editors, and photographers have put out important work (in my very biased opinion). We’ve reported on campus life, the pandemic, and the election. All the while, we’ve slowly been chipping away at the promises we made three months ago—promises on which we intend to follow through. 

I’m writing now in an effort to be transparent with our community. So much of these conversations are happening in our group chats, Slack channels, town halls, and private chats. But everyone deserves to know what is happening behind “closed doors.” There’s still so much institutional and personal work to be done. We cannot magically fix ourselves—or the systemic problems in journalism—in 12 weeks. That said, our editorial staff is making a deliberate effort to scrutinize what we publish and how.  

Here’s what we’ve done so far: 

The Beacon instituted mandatory bias training for its staff and frequent correspondents with Robert Amelio, a former Emerson employee with decades of professional experience. The first session touched on the basic definitions of bias, stereotyping, and inequity and how they apply in our everyday life. Three weeks later, the second hour-long meeting addressed the past of the paper and specific issues in journalism. With the help of the staff, I briefed Robert on The Beacon’s past, including a written list of individual instances and articles where we fell short. The third session touched on how to have difficult conversations, especially with people and organizations we have wronged in the past. The Beacon is committed to continuing this training in the spring and for semesters to come. We are working with the Student Government Association to earmark necessary funds to keep this important educational experience.

We stand for community, fact-based journalism. What do you stand for?

Some things in life are essential; they touch us every single day. Good journalism is one of those things. It keeps us in the know as we hurry through our busy lives.

In the future, we plan to be more deliberate in recording the sessions and following up with those who do not attend all the required training. We also plan to work with whichever professional leads the sessions in the future to ensure The Beacon’s past content is addressed more explicitly than in this semester’s sessions. 

With the help of several staff members, The Beacon’s management team has also put together a new constitution that will be voted on and hopefully approved this week. (That would require two-thirds of our staff to vote ‘yes.’) The ratification of this document will help hold future Beacon editors accountable for the pledges we made this year. The constitution includes several subsections—each addressing a concrete change in the way in the paper functions. 

 It adopts a more democratic editor-in-chief and managing editor nomination and election process. It includes more voices in the newsroom. We hope this will ease the unsettling power dynamic multiple former staffers told us persists in our newsroom. As long as the constitution passes this week, this newfound hiring process will be implemented next month to assemble our Spring 2021 masthead. 

The constitution will also create an advisory board of professional journalists to consult on stories covering communities we have harmed, There will be an open dialogue with our editorial staff. These past months, we’ve consulted an informal cohort of professors and reporters of color to preview and edit select articles ahead of the formal ratification. Also in the document: weekly section meetings, bi-monthly town halls, and a semesterly audit of our coverage.

The Beacon also undertook some smaller efforts we intend to continue. The managing team briefed new correspondents on The Beacon’s troubling history in our first community-wide meeting and to individual contributors when they asked questions. We’ve set aside more time to deliberate and write editorials, so they are not insincere statements on behalf of The Beacon.

We fell short this semester by not completing an audit of our coverage. We had hoped to run through a number of our stories this last year and document their writers, sources, photographers, and photo subjects in an effort to evaluate the diversity—or lack thereof—in our coverage. In our initial memo, we wrote we would complete this effort by early November and share it publicly by the end of the semester. We admittedly missed our deadline and now hope to finish this year’s audit by the end of the calendar year. We want to be deliberate and thorough in our audit, and it’s taking more time. We currently have a team of editors that we hope to grow who will begin auditing stories dating back to August of 2019 who each night begin this upcoming Thanksgiving break.  

Despite the continued implementation of these changes, we at The Beacon know we cannot expect community members to forget our mistakes. Healing is time-consuming and exhausting. The pain this newsroom has caused to members of our community cannot be erased in weeks, months, or possibly even years. 

The Beacon will continue to report on all communities on campus because we operate as a learning institution and because it is our job to do so. But we hope to do so with more consideration, compassion, and understanding of marginalized communities. In what will inevitably and rightfully be a slow process. The Beacon must regain the trust of student organizations, intercultural groups, and every single person on Emerson’s campus.