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Reading Luther Abel’s “What in the World” column last week, I had many thoughts — one of which I feel obligated to respond to as the current editor-in-chief of The Lawrentian. In the most recent edition of the column, Luther writes, “Most campus jobs exist only to exist. […] For that matter, Lawrentian staff don’t need to be paid. Campus jobs are created not because the roles are necessary, but because it’s included in financial aid packages as an offset for ludicrously high tuition.”
Before I address his claim that The Lawrentian staff should not be paid, I would like to just quickly respond to one of his other proposals for Lawrentians to venture into shiftwork during the school year to pay for their education. As someone who has worked shiftwork while taking a full load of classes, I have much to say. However, there just aren’t enough words in the world to discuss the sexual harassment and the “fluctuations of job satisfaction” that I experienced.
The point I would like to address most fully, though, is one which admittedly made my eyebrows wiggle like no other. I found myself in quite an interesting position as Editor-in-Chief, reading one of my writers declare that The Lawrentian staff should not be paid. I actually plan to do just the opposite.
My favorite part of working for The Lawrentian is finding new ways to pay students, whether that be by creating opportunities for guest illustrators, collaborating with the Creative Writing Club or knocking on Payroll’s door… or asking our lovely Managing Editor to continue to knock, that is.
I enjoy this aspect of my job for several reasons — one reason being that Lawrence’s price tag makes me quite bitter. Thank God, though, it’s only a 2.66% increase this year! While this may be the lowest increase we’ve had in years, the fact that this is the lowest increase we’ve had in years frustrates me like no other.
But another reason why I seek out opportunities to pay students is because it makes our organization more accessible. Let’s not lie to ourselves— The Lawrentian**** has not been accessible or inclusive.
Our hiring practices were excellent examples of what not to do if you’d like to create an ethical and welcoming environment. And, while I speak in the past tense, I do recognize that there is still ample work to be done in terms of making The Lawrentian more equitable. But cutting the pay is certainly not the answer.
If The Lawrentian stopped paying its staff, we would be faced with a very similar argument as to why unpaid internships are unethical; it would reduce opportunities for students who may not be able to dedicate their time to unpaid labor, simply reinforcing class immobility.
As a university without a journalism department, it is especially important for our school newspaper to be accessible to all students, to allow people to gain relevant experience and maybe even learn a little bit. If a student intends to become a journalist, believe it or not, The Lawrentian is probably their best opportunity to get some experience at Lawrence University.
Making The Lawrentian more accessible is not just a campus issue, though; this is a national issue for journalists. The American Society of News Editors set a goal back in the late 1970s to have the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in newsrooms match that of the American population. This goal was to be reached by 2000.
Today, roughly three-fourths of newsroom employees are white, and racial and ethnic minorities make up approximately 40% of the U.S. population. These numbers simply don’t match.
On a national level, our newsrooms are lacking in terms of representation and reliable reporting. By creating more inclusive newsrooms (working environments in which minority workers are not just hired but are also valued and supported), we improve the organizations as well as the material we produce. This creates a more equitable and better-informed country. There are only advantages to actually doing our jobs to represent and inform our audiences.
As NPR said in September, “Diversity is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to be realized. The stories of those whose voices have been missed — or silenced or misrepresented — due to systemic racism and blindness can only make our coverage more meaningful, relevant and compelling.”
The Lawrentian has an opportunity to improve, but eliminating our staff’s pay will minimize any efforts we have made to make this organization more inclusive.