Quest, Senate Debate Quest Reform
The proposal, brought forward by Senator Shabab Mirza, would replace the system of electing editors in place since 1921 with one in which outgoing editors will appoint their replacements. The Quest Board argues that elections are an arbitrary way to select newspaper editors and that the system will create institutional memory that will improve the overall quality of the paper and its consistency from semester to semester. The opponents of the proposal argue that it could engender nepotism and cronyism with the administration, and result in a newspaper that fails to cater to the needs of the Student Body. Discussion over the proposal was passionate and contentious, and involved members of Senate, a number of Quest writers and editors past and present, and members of the Reed Community. The proposal was endorsed and advocated by ConQuest, the editorial board responsible for this and last semesters’ Quests.
Editor Alex Walker, in a prepared speech, noted that America’s Bill of Rights provides not for a press that meets the desires of the majority, but for one whose freedom cannot be abridged by Congress. Said Walker, “the press should not simply reflect the biases and whims of the majority- instead, it should strive to find and publish the truth, even when that truth makes the majority uncomfortable.” Walker pointed out that newspaper editors are “not elected practically anywhere else, including other college campuses,” and with good reason. According to Walker, the public will rarely be informed enough of the inner workings of a paper to select the best editors, and thus will often elect people who are unprepared or incompetent. One need only look through a few years of The Quest to see the truth of this statement; said Walker, “The Quest has historically…been understaffed and unprofessional.” He noted that some might argue that Reedies prefer a “half-baked tabloid with flamewars and gossip” to serious journalism, but expressed his doubts to the truth of the idea, and noted that regardless, “the lack of a campus media source engaging in serious journalism is a major detriment to the community.”
Kieran Hanrahan, a fellow Queditor, pointed to The Quest’s coverage of the Student Patrol Officer controversy (The Quest was the first group to bring attention to the fact that, under the initial plan for SPOs, they would report AODs) as an example of the value of real investigative journalism in The Quest, while noting that the current board has tried to strike a balance between what Iselin called being “the New York Times, Jr.” and less serious features like the Sexual Intellectual and the Lutz Report.
Chris Lydgate ’90, a former Quest editor and current Editor of Reed Magazine, noted that “The Quest, over the past 30 years, has stunk,” describing a constant cycle of Quest Boards starting in a state of “extravagant decrepitude,” improving, but then being replaced by a more “popular” board when they finally master their trade. Under the original system from 1921, there was one elected editor and one elected assistant editor. The head editor would mentor the assistant, who would take over the following semester. Unfortunately, this system soon broke down, as students would often elect whomever they wanted, rather than electing the assistant editor to become editor, making the assistant editor position rather meaningless. Due to decreased interest in the assistant editor position, being editor became so time-consuming that students began to form editorial boards. Things continued this way for the next sixty years or so, interrupted by several periods during which The Quest was overseen by a professor or ceased to exist. Sometime during the eighties the system was changed to the election of an entire editorial board rather than a single editor, a system that has continued to the present day. During this entire period, one thing has been consistent. As Lydgate put it: “Most semesters, The Quest can barely compete with student papers at colleges with much lower academic standards.”
After The Quest’s argument had been made, discussion began in earnest. Senator Dana Loutey, while agreeing with the ideas in the proposal, made the argument that if The Quest wanted to be an organization independent of the Student Body, it should be financially independent as well (The Quest is currently funded as a line item by the Student Body). This suggestion was met with support by the proponents of the proposal. Senator Marie Perez questioned the causal link between internal appointments and the success of the current Quest Board, and asked how this system would prevent the possibilities of nepotism or simply acting as a mouthpiece for the administration. Senator Torra Spillane further expressed the fear that, without any form of competition, The Quest could completely fail to represent the Student Body, a concern that was met with assent by many in Senate.
Former editor Katelyn Best responded by pointing out that the current Quest Board was nurtured by the previous one, and, while unable to dismiss fears of nepotism or cronyism, noted that a system of rewarding talent was preferable to the current “popularity contest.” Queditor Alex Blum responded by noting that the proposal allows for a recall election, and recounted conversations he’d had with college newspapers across the country while working on the proposal: according to Blum, none have any concerns about nepotism, and they always manage to “keep in mind that they are serving the Student Body.”
Vice President Aidan Sigman, unsatisfied by Blum’s response, suggested a system wherein half the Quest Board would be elected every semester. David Azrael, who had apparently just been walking through, spoke up, stating that, as a student, he wanted to have input on The Quest through elections, saying “I don’t want to be like Swarthmore” (a battle cry that was picked up by other opponents of the proposal). He also noted that, while recall elections are an option, “we [Reed] don’t really do them.” Azrael’s comments caused impassioned argument on both sides throughout the building.
After the audience calmed down, Iselin spoke, saying that “to say we wish not to be like Swarthmore is not giving Swarthmore enough credit.” Iselin noted that the Student Body having control of a newspaper is not necessarily desirable, and that the majority, under this system, would still have its say through Senate. Said Iselin, “it’s worth two years to give it a shot.” Walker and Mirza both concluded by reiterating that diversity of opinion is not the primary goal of journalism. Said Mirza, while noting that democracy is necessary in politics, in journalism “you’re not choosing someone to represent you.”
The meeting did not result in a vote, as the proposal’s supporters did not expect Senate to approve. However, the Queditors expressed optimism afterwards for the proposal’s future: said Alex Blum, “I feel that we made a very strong case that the current personnel system causes more detriment than benefit. I think Senate was on balance more favorable to our proposal at the end of the debate than they were at the beginning, so in that respect we achieved our goals.” He ended by reiterating the importance of the proposal: “Hopefully this process will pave the way to the Reed community getting the journalism it deserves.”
A Summary of Proposed Changes
- Editors will be appointed rather than elected.
- The Board will consist of eight members, each who serve 2 semesters. Half the board will be appointed in the fall semester, half in the spring.
- Queditors will maintain a handbook to be passed down to future editorial boards
- Queditors will be paid monthly.
- Queditors will have weekly meetings open to the Student Body.
- Queditors will host at least one open house per semester.