Communication necessary for journalistic creativity
My beloved Targum — how you never fail to stir up controversy semester after semester. With that Tyler Clementi editorial debacle back in 2010 or a microcosmic version of the Israel-Palestine conflict played out across the Opinions page or the cheeky piece on V-Day cunnilingus, The Daily Targum has pissed off many and pleased few. And once again, the Targum is in the spotlight as one former opinions editor attempts to expose a problem with the Targum’s infrastructure that undermines the integrity of the campus newspaper as an unbiased fixture at Rutgers University. While I have no desire to involve myself in the petty personal dramas unfolding around this pressing issue of campus newspaper censorship, allow me to weigh in for a second with my own experiences of working on The Daily Targum editorial board for three years between 2010 and early 2013.
Working as a staff reporter and copy editor for The Daily Targum kept me in an idealistic journalism bubble. I didn’t really understand the contentious social and political issues that the Targum was consistently implicated in, or the power that certain articles possessed to rile up campus opinion. Being holed up in a tiny office all night with the same 20 individuals five nights a week can do that to you — especially when these same 20 people inevitably become your 20 closest friends. Much of the sentiment my coworkers and I expressed when people called out the Targum was along the lines of “I don’t get what the big deal is. People get upset over everything” or “Why does everyone hate on the Targum? We work so hard only to get criticized.” And while I by no means am downplaying the steadfast work ethic of Targum editorial employees (40 hours a week in-office and a full course load is about the average among editors — now you know, so cut them some slack every now and then), the amount of inquisitive and productive social and political conversation was lacking in the office. A lot of the time I felt like editors had to hide behind classroom idealisms of unbiased objectivity to maintain some journalism school ruse rather than strive to become well-informed and critical writers. There was never much discussion or dissent over intra-Targum politics, mostly because the plucky aspiring journalists who walked through the doors of 26 Mine St. are not made aware that while The Daily Targum is supposed to be an “independent, student-run publication,” there are greater forces at play.
Not once in my entire tenure at the copy desk was the editorial staff formally introduced to the Board of Trustees (except perhaps at the annual alumni banquets, but all I can really remember from those events is the open bar). There was never a meet-and-greet of any kind. I was always a little confused as to why the editor-in-chief and managing editor would happily skip off to board meetings Wednesday nights once a month and not bother to fill in the rest of the staff upon return. I never had any idea what kinds of people were on the Board of Trustees, how many there were, how they got appointed and what gave them the authority to ultimately decide how to handle potentially controversial content. And yet, when shit hit the fan (usually only in regard to the publication of Israel-Palestine pieces), the elusive Board of Trustees stepped in with a non-negotiable decision that the rest of the staff complied with simply because there was no method of recourse without pushing deadlines or receiving scorn from fellow coworkers. Thus, the Targum replicates most organizational bureaucracies in that there is no transparency, lack of oversight, and “the board” pushes their own interests on behalf of their affiliations.
Hopefully what comes out of this Targum shitstorm is a substantial increase in the amount of contact between the Board of Trustees and the Targum staff. Hopefully, the current editors will get to meet and talk to members of the board. Hopefully, some thought will be put into reorganizing the Board of Trustees to better reflect myriad social and political stances (can’t expect zero bias). Hopefully, there will be more of a dialogue between the editors and the board when handling potentially controversial opinion pieces, rather than a weighty decision handed down from above. I sincerely hope the current editors will be more cognizant of Targum’s visibility as a public forum and more critical of what goes on within the paper and what gets published for potentially the world to see (thank you, Internet). Until then, I look forward to reading more passive-aggressive Facebook threads that trail behind Targum-related links like toilet paper.
Rashmee Kumar is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in women’s and gender studies and South Asian studies. She is a former copy editor of The Daily Targum. Her column, “Media Matters,” runs on alternate Mondays.