Op-Ed: Why The Quest Needs to be Elections-Free
Rob Shryock is a former Queditor of Fall 2011.
Between the time this article is written and when it is printed there will likely have been a vote on the proposal to allow members of the Quest Board to appoint their own successors, rather than have them be elected. The fact that this proposal will likely be voted down is an extreme disservice to the community, especially given that the proposal would still have to be ratified by the student body in order to make the change. Elections have crippled The Quest for nearly sixty years, saddling Reed with a paper that is run by the popular rather than the competent. It has made the paper unaccountable to students, restricted students’ access to information, and inhibited students’ abilities to publicly express themselves. At its best, The Quest has been mediocre; at its worst, it has been shamefully bad, especially for a liberal arts school of our caliber.
During my time at The Quest, I began to realize how much of the negative community attitude towards The Quest was based on the paper’s lack of continuity. Each Quest Board has to reinvent the wheel, slowly learning over time how to run a paper. This means that the paper doesn’t really achieve peak quality until halfway through the semester – at which point the quality almost immediately drops due to students becoming busier with their academics. This lack of continuity drives down the quality of The Quest, and it is the inherent problem with an elected newspaper. Institutional memory, experience, and talent are the lifeblood of a newspaper, but elections are nothing more than a popularity contest.
I am not saying is that elections in general are a poor system – what I am saying is that elections are fundamentally antithetical to how a newspaper should run. A newspaper should be able to print the truth, regardless of how popular the truth is. Elections prevent The Quest from serving its purpose, both by making the newspaper subservient to the tides of political opinion and by dramatically decreasing its quality.
How does our proposal solve these problems? By allowing greater self-governance for The Quest. By allowing The Quest to choose its own editors based on their talents and experience working on The Quest, not based on who is popular. We’ve heard many worries that allowing The Quest to pick its successors would lead to them just picking their friends. This is a concern we’ve taken many steps to address, like as asking Honor Council to observe the selection process as a check on possible nepotism. But it’s inarguably the case that, under the current system, a writer who shows up to every Quest meeting, works hard and writes well has almost no chance of being elected unless they are “popular” or enter the election with a popular friend. Under this new system, that writer would almost certainly be able to be part of the editorial board after a semester or two of working with The Quest. The possibility for advancement, in turn, will drive writers to work harder for The Quest. This new system would provides students more access to The Quest, not less. It means that any student willing to do the work can be a Quest Editor, not just those students who can win an election.
This system would also allow for true continuity. With at least half of the board staying on after every semester, each new board would have experience to fall back on, instead of having to start from scratch. Additionally, if the new appointees to the board write for The Quest before they become editors – which, according to the new system, they would – they will already have a good sense of what goes on at The Quest.
Lastly, what our system offers is accountability – true accountability. This may seem counter-intuitive. Isn’t an elections system, if nothing else, more accountable than an appointed system? Perhaps in theory – but in practice, Quest Boards are very aware of their temporary nature and thus often make little effort to be thorough in their discussion of serious issues. The boards’ responses to criticism often tend to be things like, “The Quest is hard work!” or “You can’t please everyone!” Quest Boards tend to be generally unwilling to have an open dialogue with the community about how they are run. Past Quest Boards have printed libel unapologetically, showed a lack of knowledge of basic journalistic conventions and ethical guidelines, gone entire semesters without printing any insightful journalism, and even been sued at the college’s expense. The idea that democracy creates accountability contradicts the reality of The Quest.
What our system offers as an alternative is a sense of pride and responsibility in The Quest and to the Reed community. If Quest Editors are serving on the board for a year, and if serving is indeed a privilege won by hard work and talent rather than by election, Quest Editors are more likely to take The Quest seriously and make a better Quest. What I’m suggesting is that quality is a better driver of accountability than democracy – if The Quest is better, then editors will strive to meet that high standard, not the “doesn’t suck quite as much” standard of today.
These are but a few reasons why this system needs to change. We, the creators of this proposal, olde Quest editors and new, believe our proposal is the best way to change The Quest, but we are very open to suggestions on how to improve it. We want to make Reed better, and for this to happen we need a large portion of the student body on board. So please, gives us your comments and critiques, and let’s make this school a better place together.