The Queen’s Journal: autonomy or integrity?

Its recent campaign against an AMS audit has only underlined the severe problems at the Journal

James Simpson
James Simpson

In its March 18, 2011 issue, the Journal epitomized unprofessionalism. It printed an advertisement that specifically attacked the president of the Engineering Society for a motion she brought forth at AMS Assembly to audit the content of the Journal, which passed by a wide margin.

In conjunction with its spiteful advertisement, the Journal set up a website to continue its vilification of the EngSoc president.

The motion passed by AMS Assembly sought to help the Journal develop accountability towards the student body. In response, the Journal staff published an editorial noting that they should be “free from the influence of student government … with regards to [our] editorial integrity.”

Stating the importance of maintaining “editorial integrity” while running a campaign that specifically targets an individual Queen’s student—who is trying to increase the publication’s accountability—is about as delicious an irony as I’ve ever seen. The point of the proposed audit is to determine how much of the Journal’s content is of interest to students. The rationale for this audit is simple—approximately one-third of the publication’s budget comes from mandatory student fees.

If you are an undergraduate student, you paid $6.54 this year to ensure that the Journal’s exists. Since students are paying for the publication, they might find it interesting to know how much of the content is actually relevant.

The Journal’s staff have taken the AMS motion to be a siege against editorial autonomy. This argument is bizarre. The AMS motion seeks to audit the content of the Journal without judgment.

It’s meant to build bridges—without the kind of traditional metrics available to other newspapers (the Journal is free and thus it’s impossible to track individual print subscriptions), it would be useful to have data on whether the Journal is fulfilling its mandate.

I would not support that anything be done with this data, but I also cannot understand why the staff of the Journal wouldn’t want it. If I were part of the Journal, I would love to know whether we were providing news that was of interest to students. It would be useful to determine areas of improvement.

Currently, no such process exists—editorial staff at the Journal have no way of knowing whether they’re doing a good job.

Furthermore, the campaign against the president of the Engineering Society is personal. Tyler Ball, the Journal’s Editor in Chief, tweeted, “Personal attack? No, more like a taste of their own medicine.” In other words, the campaign isn’t a personal attack, it’s merely vindictive.

With this campaign, the Journal has demonstrated precisely why more accountability is necessary.

Editors of the Journal have virtually no leash and can do whatever they want without consequence, even if that involves targeting and running ads to smear the reputation of someone they don’t like.

Let’s face it: the Journal engages in a number of questionable practices. For the past several years, it’s endorsed an AMS team at election time.

Normally, it does so after the campaign period and right before the election begins, meaning teams do not have the ability to respond to the Journal’s endorsement (or lack of one).

There are massive ethical issues with such a process. The Journal’s endorsement carries substantial weight—every team they’ve endorsed since 2006 has won the election. But the successful teams are directly responsible for hiring the Media Services Director, the person who maintains fiscal oversight of the publication.

Is it right to have the nominal power to influence the hiring of your future boss?

The Journal also publishes unsigned editorials, which are meant to represent the view of the editorial board at large on an issue.

For instance, in its March 4, 2011 issue, the Journal published an unsigned editorial discussing the media’s responsibility to report truthful information. They state that “media outlet[s] … must be held to the highest standard of accountability.” Printing this statement two weeks before frantically opposing a move to increase its own accountability illustrates the problem inherent with these types of editorials—they’re not objective, and they’re often just a load of self-serving bullshit.

Hubris has no place in editorial integrity. Yet it drips from every issue of the Journal. And why wouldn’t it? The Editor in Chief essentially cannot be fired—their removal requires a 2/3 vote in a public referendum.

There are no limits on what can be said and the Journal isn’t accountable to anyone. It’s therefore unsurprising that some editors act in their own self-interest and ignore their responsibilities to the students at large.

The AMS Constitution gives the Journal the right “to give an accurate account of news relevant to the University, and to discuss questions of current interest.” This does not include the right to use their power to influence opinion on a topic.

Endorsing AMS candidates or writing unsigned editorials do not constitute discussion of a question, they represent an attempt to influence the opinion of the student body at large. This is neither an objective nor ethical practice.

Editorial integrity includes truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality and accountability. the Journal’s recent actions do not demonstrate any of the latter three qualities.

Editors at the Journal need to reconsider their stance on editorial autonomy.

Their unsigned editorial in the March 18, 2011 issue is titled “Autonomy, or monotony.” The real title should be “Autonomy, or integrity?”

It shouldn’t be a difficult choice.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

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