Keeping the ‘student’ in student-run paper

The Alligator doesn’t have a news adviser on staff, and I think it’s for the best.

The Daily Tar Heel, UNC Chapel Hill’s student paper, just hired a non-student adviser, Erica Perel. She was a staffer for the Charlotte Observer.

In an opinion piece in the Daily Tar Heel about the hiring, Perel was quoted as saying:

“It’s a tough line to straddle … I want to offer constructive criticism, but I also don’t want to scare people away from a story if I’m too critical. That’s going to be something to navigate.”

It worries me that there don’t seem to be firm guidelines in place about how much editorial oversight the adviser would have.

In the Alligator’s case, Mike Foley, the reporting professor at the UF J-school, does critique our papers each week. Jessie and I meet with him, and he tells us his take on our coverage of the week’s news.

However, he does it without pay and with no strings attached. He’s told us we’re under no obligation to take his advice. He also told us during our first meeting that he won’t make our editorial decisions for us.

I see the benefits of an adviser. The Daily Tar Heel position appears to be more of a writing coach than an unofficial editor. I can also understand how having an adviser would bring valuable experience into a young newsroom unfamiliar with making big news decisions.

But after you hire “adults” to oversee your paper — well, how can you really call yourself a “student” paper anymore?

In my resume, I can say “managing editor” knowing that I did both those things — managed and edited the paper. When the paper goes out each morning, I see it as having my editorial stamp of approval. If we had an adviser, I would always feel like I had someone looking over my shoulder.

I make my own managerial and editorial decisions at the Alligator, and as much as it scares me to make the weightier ones, at least I can take full responsibility for them.



Filed under Editing, Managing

6 responses to “Keeping the ‘student’ in student-run paper

  1. Erica doesn’t have any control over our editorial decisions. She doesn’t see any copy before it goes to print – only after.

    What you said about her role as a writing coach is much closer to what she does: She works with new writers (and is particularly emphasizing retention), helps editors develop leadership skills, will help with internship searches and is a general sounding board.

    From the newsroom, we were initially concerned when the idea of an adviser came up last year – for the same reasons you are. We very much did not want adults interfering with what is an entirely student-run editorial process. And Erica – a former DTH editor herself – has said she doesn’t want to be editor again. She’s here 9-5 and misses most of the production night. So far, she’s been a really helpful addition to the newsroom.

  2. I really wish you had talked to someone at the DTH before writing this. I know how much I hate it when someone tells me that same thing, but there actually are a stringent set of guidelines. We worried about the same thing before we hired her.

  3. Hilary Lehman

    I understand that Erica doesn’t want to be editor. The post wasn’t intended as a wrist-slap to the DTH — more as saying that personally, I would be uncomfortable having any non-student on staff at the Alligator. It’s a discussion we’ve had in the newsroom without talking about any other papers, but the DTH development gave me a jumping-off point and made it timely.
    Still want me to call? I’ll write a follow-up.

  4. historyontherun

    First off, I don’t want this to come off as DTH attacking you. I served as editor-in-chief of the paper last year when our board of directors decided to take this step. We had huge staff discussions throughout the year on the topic. I have graduated and am not in the newsroom this year, but I would reiterate what the other posters said.

    That being said, there is a part of me that is really proud to have been the last editor without a news adviser. When we got our Pacemaker nomination this year, it was cool to see my name there alone without a news adviser under it.

    However, the things the DTH can do are so much greater with a news adviser. It’s certainly an interesting test, but I have faith that the policies are in place to ensure that this is a productive and lasting relationship.

  5. I agree with the other DTHers that this was a carefully thought-out decision that the DTH’s general manager made. The DTH has a professional staff, such as the general manager and the financial director, but the editorial content has and will continue to be student-driven.
    I don’t think anyone opposes your opinion that the “student” should remain in a student newspaper. You are completely right about that! At some newspapers, the news adviser does have more weight and control over content, but that’s not so at The Daily Tar Heel.

  6. I’m curious about a follow-up to this post … will there be one? Or is this just finished now?

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