We, at The Phoenix, have a diversity problem. Our editorial board and staff are not representative of the diversity of our campus and the world more broadly, and neither have we historically been representative. In the first issue of The Phoenix in 1881, editors wrote that “we fondly hope to see The Phoenix what we wish it to be — a paper devoted to the best interests of our college, of our fellow students, and an advocate of truth and independence.” Although The Phoenix has evolved to incorporate more perspectives since the original all-white, highly privileged editorial board in 1881, The Phoenix still fails in its original mission when many groups of students are not represented on our editorial board and among our writers.
Diversity ambiguously includes everything from racial and ethnic diversity to diversity of gender, ability, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status, and more. In this light, we are missing key voices at our table and among our writers, and we are especially concerned about the lack of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students on our editorial board. The experiences of editors and writers play a large role in informing what we cover and how we cover it, so when we are lacking the voices of large groups of students, we fail to properly cover the issues that are important to underrepresented communities on campus. Because of this, we’ve overlooked important issues and viewpoints, and such a bias can do harm to marginalized communities. It is our job to make amends for harm we have caused and do the work to make The Phoenix a newspaper that serves the whole of the campus community.
The lack of diversity in college newspapers such as The Phoenix is both widespread and deeply structural. Students who come from private schools and wealthy public schools often had access to well-funded journalism programs. Though this is certainly not the only structural barrier to joining The Phoenix, this does mean that the students coming into college with experience in journalism are often the voices most represented already. Since campus newspapers also serve as pipelines to professional newsrooms, gaps in representation at campus newspapers replicate themselves in the national media. A 2017 survey by the American Society of News Editors found that just 16.6% of professional journalists are people of color, even though people of color make up nearly 40% of the overall U.S. population. Representation in the news media matters because it shapes the public’s perception of people and events, and biased coverage leads to tangible harm. We acknowledge The Phoenix’s accountability as a crucial link in a problematic system and we intend to take steps to disrupt the toxicity of the current pipeline. It will be impossible to change the broader issues of representation in professional media if campus newsrooms like ours do not take extra initiative toward reform.
We are committed to improving the inclusivity of The Phoenix. It is important to us that The Phoenix accurately reflects our campus’s perspectives not only to current students but also to past and future members of the Swarthmore community. The Phoenix has a wide readership among alums, faculty, staff, as well as prospective families that pick up the paper as they visit campus. The lack of many marginalized groups on our editorial board means that many current students don’t see themselves represented at The Phoenix and are less likely to feel comfortable joining. Prospective students who read The Phoenix see this too, and that lack of diversity is cyclical. We have work to do to make sure that The Phoenix is a space where all students feel comfortable.
We need to do a better job of reaching out to students instead of simply letting them come to us. Our current recruitment strategy, which largely consists of tabling at the annual activities fair and posting on class Facebook pages to recruit writers, is not enough. Writers of all experience levels can write for The Phoenix, and editors work with writers to publish any piece that they submit, but we know that we need to be more proactive about recruiting and training students. Though this is just a small step and does not address all structural barriers that still exist to joining The Phoenix, we plan to expand our training next semester and beyond so that students with less experience feel more comfortable and more welcomed joining us.
We also know that there are economic barriers to writing and editing for The Phoenix. We ask for a lot of time from writers, particularly those who write for our News section. Though editors are paid a small stipend, we know that time given to The Phoenix is considerable and can be better compensated by on-campus jobs. For the first time this year, we made a step towards fixing that problem by securing money from SBC to pay News writers $15 per story. We are hoping to expand this to all sections for the next academic year. While this in no way fully compensates writers for the work that they do, nor acknowledges the emotional labor that is often required to produce quality journalism, we hope that this will be a start to making writing for The Phoenix more financially accessible.
The Phoenix has failed to be inclusive — not only in our newsroom but also in what we publish. We have made mistakes that have, on various occasions throughout the years, eroded trust between us and the student body. Phoenix writers have misquoted sources. The Phoenix has missed out on covering stories and events that are important to marginalized communities. We have published editorials that have not given adequate attention and detail to issues that impact those communities not represented on our editorial board. We have made mistakes in interviews. We have published stories with factual errors. To the students who have spoken up to let us know when we’ve made these errors, we are grateful, and we publish corrections when we notice them. We also know that making these mistakes has led to a general feeling of mistrust that many students with marginalized identities have expressed to us.
We are working on preventing the mistakes that may lead to inaccurate representation in The Phoenix. New writers are now trained to confirm quotes with sources and on how to communicate our quoting policy to sources in our semesterly New Writer Training. This is a work in progress and we recognize it does not mean we can erase the mistakes of our past, nor does it guarantee we will not make mistakes in the future. Our goal is, and has always been, to be accurate, fair, and thoughtful in our reporting, and we are working to make sure that our policies and procedures support that goal.
It is particularly important to include a greater variety of perspectives in our Opinions section. Too often, this section has overwhelmingly reflected the opinions of those with the most privilege. We want The Phoenix’s Opinions section to be a space for open conversations about the issues that matter to campus. Our policy is that anyone can submit an op-ed to The Phoenix, but we recognize there are several obstacles to submitting a piece. Having the time to write an op-ed is a privilege in itself since that time could otherwise be spent on jobs or schoolwork. Currently, the majority of op-eds that we publish are submitted to us rather than solicited by us. It is our responsibility to ensure that we represent a wide variety of views and perspectives. We commit to soliciting more perspectives in The Phoenix’s Opinions section.
In writing this editorial, we are inviting the campus community to hold us accountable to high standards. Sending an email, having an in-person conversation with one of the members of our editorial board, or publishing an op-ed or letter to the editor in The Phoenix are some ways to share your thoughts with us. We have also created a form for sending anonymous feedback, which can be found on the About section of our website. For those of you who would prefer to speak with us in-person, please refer to our online masthead which is also in the About section.
We know that these initiatives are not enough, and this editorial is not nearly enough either. Creating an inclusive environment does not conclude in a singular action, but requires an ongoing process on our part. The Phoenix will continue to work on improving and expanding the initiatives that we outlined here. We also welcome feedback in any form. While the members of our editorial board shift every semester, we are committed as an organization to working towards better representation, and we will ensure that future editorial boards remain dedicated to this work.