November 24, 2013

PUBLIC EDITOR: Bearing With Us

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By NICHOLAS KAASIK

“Editors’ note: Please bear with us as we undergo improvements to our website.” This disclaimer greets the reader accessing the home page (or any article) on cornellsun.com — and it’s starting to feel like a permanent banner. With the end of a semester of website upgrades fast approaching, The Sun should make sure the disruptive parts of this construction project are completed soon.

Earlier this semester, The Sun’s website went down for a week. The Editor in Chief responded appropriately, acknowledging and apologizing for the disruption, informing readers about why the site went down and asking for patience as upgrades to the website continue. In comparison to healthcare.gov, a one-week outage corrected by an all-student web team doesn’t seem so bad, but The Sun can and must do better. The letter from the editor explaining what happened was helpful and informative, and The Sun should continue to be as forthcoming with the status of website upgrades going forward.

Instead of a rather uninformative perpetual banner, the editors should periodically publish status reports on the website upgrades, letting the online readership know where the website is, where it is going and how long it will take to get there. In the Internet era, it is widely understood that websites are constantly changing to some degree, upgrading, refreshing and improving. Indeed, the ease in which the delivery of content can be modified is one of the many advantages of an online platform for a newspaper. In the spirit and mission of a newspaper, however, the readership should be better informed of these changes, and not by a constant reminder that The Sun’s website, like many websites, is a work in progress.

After some disruptions, The Sun’s website is accessible, its updates frequent and timely with the new editions of the paper; but work remains to be done. An area in particular need of attention is the restoration of access and to content from previous years. Though access to prior editions is by its nature less pressing than publishing the news, The Sun must be sure that less pressing does not come to mean left undone.

For a student newspaper, posterity is important, even in the era of impermanent hyperlinks and the infinitely and easily malleable characteristics of content on the Internet. While preserving archival links is a task less urgent than bringing the community new editions of The Sun, navigable access to this prior content must not be overlooked. The current alumni of our alma mater — the prior editors, reporters and contributors to The Sun not least among them — should be able to access and use the cornellsun.com website to look back at their tenure here in Ithaca. Prospective members of our community should likewise have easy access to the happenings and opinions of years past to better inform their decision to attend Cornell. The readership and the role of the Sun as a community newspaper is broader than just current students and current events. Restoring accessibility and navigability to previous editions is an important service to these readers that the paper must not neglect.

Publishing regular status reports on the ongoing improvements to the website serves the additional role of keeping the editors of The Sun on task and accountable for completing these improvements. Just as a manager may ask for regular updates to ensure progress is being made, The Sun can hold itself better accountable to the readers for its improvements by committing to regularly letting the readership know where things stand. The prospective and former students of Cornell, among others, should know when they will be able to again access online to the content of The Sun from years past. After all, a newspaper should be held accountable to its readership. Keeping them in the know can only improve the relationship between the editors and their readers and better ensure continued loyalty to the paper.

With the close of the semester fast upon us, the editors should commit to advancing these changes and to keeping readers better informed. The editors must ensure our new banner not read “The Cornell Daily Sun. Independent since 1880, asking for your patience since 2013.”

Nicholas Kaasik is a third year in the Cornell Law School and The Sun’s Public Editor. He may be reached at nek43@cornell.edu. The Public Editor’s column appears periodically this semester.

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