The Prism will continue working with other community groups to allow them uncensored space in our pages, in the form of "Special Sections." Some of our readers and friends expressed discomfort or confusion about our allowing other groups to do this, so the Prism staff called a meeting to clear up our policies on this effort.
"Special Section" is the name the Prism has (so far) given to a section of our paper in which we have allowed another community organization to print their own material. The participating organization is entirely responsible for the content, and The Prism has minimal editorial input.
This is different than someone submitting an article which editors then decide if the article is interesting and informative and in line with our interpretation of our mission statement, and may make editorial changes.
In the March, 1997 issue we had our first 'section.' Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill had been publishing its own newsletter and we talked about the possibility of them publishing their newsletter in our pages instead of separately. This arrangement could save a lot of the money and time. We met with the Internationalist staff and agreed that they would prepare stories in advance and share the cost of printing the pages they used. They requested that they make all editorial decisions about what to include.
In the March issue two pages appeared labeled "Internationalist Books - Special Section" containing articles by bookstore volunteers and managers. It was not exactly like a paid advertisement, because we didn't charge ad rates and because Prism staffers agreed that they wanted to cooperate with these groups.
We did similar 'sections' with the Black Student Movement of UNC-Chapel Hill (which publishes Black Ink), the Student Environmental Action Coalition of UNC-Chapel Hill, and with the Hosea Hudson Club, a local affiliate of the Communist Party USA.
Some community members began complaining that these uncensored pages could cause problems, so we met and clarified our policies. According to our decisions:
The Prism staff will use our mission statement (see below) to help us choose the groups with whom we work on a "Special Section." The entire Prism staff must approve the new section by a consensus vote, guided by how well the organization's goals support our mission statement and by our assessment of the organization's history.
To clearly distinguish "Guest" pages from regular Prism pages, we will place a distinct border on every special section page, and include a 'banner' over the top. A disclaimer will appear at the bottom of every section page. And we'll include a summary of the 'section' policy on the inside front page.
We will try to take into account the concerns of our readers, but will lean towards a diversity of perspectives rather than censorship of controversial views. We will keep cooperating with the groups we have so far approved, provided they still want to participate. (Of course, it is also the responsibility of a cooperating group to think about the interests of the Prism and its readers.)
These guest-written sections are one more way we try to support other progressive organizationsby sharing experience in producing alternative media. To encourage independence we asked each group do its own writing, editing and page arrangement, and to share costs. (Well, also because we cannot afford to print extra pages.)
It's an attempt by a tiny, monetarily challenged, community-based radical newspaper to help progressive organizations work together, in a routine fashion, independently, and while we still have disagreements.
And if it works well, then other alternative media will have something to learn from us.
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