Understanding implications

By Clare Clancy, News Editor

Hearing the words “Queen’s Journal” and “content” spoken about together in an AMS assembly discussion shocked me. My shock turned to disbelief when, following this discussion, AMS assembly passed a motion which mandates the Media Services Director to provide an analysis of Journal content quantifying articles that directly address “student activities and events”.

Two years ago, I worked as an Assistant News Editor for the Journal, and during that time attended countless AMS assemblies. In my year of reporting on student government happenings, I never heard a single discussion like this.

There is a good reason it was never brought up, and that is editorial autonomy. The Journal’s content is something chosen by the editors of the Journal and no one else. This is of paramount importance to anyone who values the aim of a newspaper and its ability to hold people and institutions accountable. When a student politician causes controversy or when people ask us not to write a story because of its heated nature, Journal staff members continue to report, aware that at the end of the day, what goes in the paper is up to us. No, the motion doesn’t directly address editorial autonomy but it does have implications for the future of Journal content.

The motion brought forward at assembly is disturbing for many reasons. First, if an analysis is conducted, what percentage of content relating directly to student activities and events will be deemed acceptable? What does this mean? Does this mean that stories relating to Queen’s clubs are to be thought more valuable than those relating to the Kingston community?

Personally, I thought coverage of the Kingston mayoral elections was one of the most important things in the Journal this year. While it wasn’t a student-run activity or event, the results of our municipal elections directly impact Queen’s as a community within Kingston. We have an obligation to inform students of changes in local politics which impact their daily lives and Queen’s as a whole.

It is possible that with information from this audit available, future editors of the Journal will be pressured to live up to a certain percentage. As one of two incoming Editors in Chief, I find this a scary thought.

Second, the motion asks the AMS Media Services Director to perform an analysis that is virtually impossible and will lead to flawed results. The information collected will not be helpful in any way. How do you decide if something falls under the umbrella of a “student activity or event”? For example, incoming AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Mira Dineen was interviewed for an article about poverty in Kingston on Jan. 18. She is a student who co-authored a book on the subject, but the focus of the article was on poverty in the surrounding community. Was this an important and worthwhile story? Absolutely. Does the article relate to a student activity? I’m unsure. It relates to one student’s activity. How many students need to be part of the activity for it to be counted? My point is that the Journal writes for the Queen’s community and we know our readers’ interests. After all, we are students too. I think the time and resources of the Media Services Director can be better spent elsewhere.

The third issue I have with this motion is that I don’t believe its stated intention. We all know ‘information for the sake of information’ isn’t the real reason the motion was brought forward. There are those who believe Journal content to be questionable at times. I will say that despite what many readers might think, Journal staff are open to criticism and we are aware that mistakes are made. It is for this reason that in policy we print clarifications and corrections. After all, we are student journalists and we are learning our trade. That said, there are avenues available to address the concerns of the only people we really care about: our readers. Part of Journal policy includes publishing letters to the editor, seeking out opinion editorial pieces from members of the Queen’s community and holding open editorial boards each semester. If that isn’t enough, we make ourselves available through every medium possible. Whether it’s having an open door policy at the Journal House, being available through social media like Twitter and Facebook or emailing one of the two dozen addresses on the Journal website (section specific for convenience), we accept and encourage open dialogue with readers.

If you are still reading this blog post, let me say there is one redeemable quality of the motion. I appreciate the amendment made by Media Services Director Sarah Kwong. I am relieved that she removed other media services like CFRC and QTV from the motion, which originally mandated all AMS media to be audited. No media service which values editorial autonomy should be subjected to the same ridiculous notion of ‘content analysis’ as the Journal is now.

What worries me the most is that the people who voted for this motion, those on AMS assembly who said ‘let us collect information for information’s sake’, are unaware of the true implications their decision holds.

Infringement on editorial autonomy has to begin somewhere. I think AMS assembly members who voted in favour of this motion should reconsider what it means for the future of the Journal and Queen’s community at large.

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 journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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