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Debate Raises Deeper Questions re "Sections"


In many ways I initiated this debate about how to treat the submissions of the Hosea Hudson Club in an indirect manner, by advocating this "special section" approach in the first place. Please allow me to put in few quick words.

The idea behind such our special sections is that the Prism staff makes a voluntary agreement with some community-based organization to share in producing a newspaper. After years spent trying to bring in more and different kinds of people to this newspaper, and in wondering why this task was so difficult, I decided that one serious barrier to this newspaper's being representative of many different communities and community groups was that we were inviting others onto "our" turf.

In our regular pages, we choose which articles to run, we make placement decisions, we make editing suggestions. A person who knows us well might not mind submitting her material for our approval and alteration. A person who is less familiar with us, or less accustomed to or even distrustful of print media, however, might not as easily respond to our invitations.

We tried "guest editing" with other organizations but learned that without agreeing upon definite space limits in advance (one page, two pages) editing and production was tough to coordinate. If we removed an article to save space, inevitably this edit prompted feelings among the "guest editing" organization that we were unfairly interfering in their choices of material.

Special sections, in my view, can be a way of including people and organizations in active grassroots media production who might not have done so on their own. We asked section sponsors to decide how much space they wanted to use, to provide their own graphics, to make their own editing decisions, and to suggest the layout they wanted. That's pretty close to helping people "start up" their own newspaper. The Black Student Movement, for example, published Black Ink twice with us and now have produced their own magazine-style newspaper.

This type of inclusion does include some "firewalls" between the Prism and the section sponsor. We are not responsible for their editorial choices; and they are protected from our editorial meddling. (Though agreeable suggestions are allowed!) In the long term, this approach offers a few protections against risks. If either the newspaper or a sponsor decides that cooperation is no longer helpful, then we've done everything possible to make sure that we can both stand alone.

Such an approach raises many, many difficult questions. It's not as simple as inclusion versus censorship. Should we do this at all? Should we do this every issue? Should sections rotate? How do we decide with whom to cooperate? These are tough questions. Some people don't like the idea at all.

At least we are wrestling with these questions in practice rather than discussing initiatives vaguely.

Jeff Saviano, Editor


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