January 31, 2010

As Semester Begins, The Sun Transitions

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As public editor, I hope to act as a representative for readers. Ideally, this position is a channel through which reader concerns can be relayed to the newspaper’s staff and some of the paper’s quirks and decisions can be explained to readers. I also strive to bring a sense of transparency to some of the newspaper’s internal processes. Anything that informs readers of what goes on behind the scenes helps to bolster the newspaper’s credibility: The more things are out in the open, the more readers can see that decisions are made fairly and aboveboard.

With these goals in mind, I turn my attention to The Sun’s current major transition: editorial compet. Keen readers might have noticed the changes listed in the daily masthead. “Editors in training” are now listed too, identifying the candidates who worked on a given day’s issue.

Compet is a six-week period — it started last week — when new editors take over the various duties associated with running the paper. After six weeks of what amounts to tryouts, the process culminates with a staff-wide vote to fill all editorial positions, from Editor in Chief on down. The process is unlike anything at a professional newspaper, but the high turnover of college students necessitates rapid and complete changes to the structure of the editorial board.

Sun editorships, especially the top ones, require a major commitment from the student journalists who occupy them. The Editor in Chief is essentially on call at all times and has a hand in everything the newspaper does. And the Managing Editor, who directly oversees the news side of the paper, can expect to put in full-time hours.

The compet process reveals the entire workings of a new position to a candidate. Sign-ups concluded at the end of last semester, and the candidates hit the ground running immediately this winter.

There has been some attrition already. Competitive races for Associate Editor — the person in charge of the opinion section — and Managing Editor now only have one candidate each: Tony Manfred ’11 and Brendan Doyle ’12, respectively. And the races for Web Editor, Sports Editors, Design Editor, and Photography Editor, among others, are also uncontested.

However, there is still a contested race for Editor in Chief: Michael Stratford ’11, formerly a News Editor, and Keenan Weatherford ’11, formerly the Sports Editor, are the two candidates vying for the top spot. Plus, as of yesterday, there are three candidates for two Arts Editor positions and five hopefuls for four News Editor spots. But there is room for some change here, as editors can “drop down” during the elections and run for a lower position than they had signed up for.

For the uncontested races, the candidate does the job almost every night, as if he or she already had it. For the contested ones, the duties rotate. Some positions get nights off more frequently than others, but the two Editor in Chief candidates will be at the Sun office every night, splitting their duties. And it’s not like the new candidates are entirely on their own: The old editors are available for guidance, and they have their own rotation of who will be in the office to help out if needed.

Both Editor in Chief candidates are upbeat despite the increased workload. “It’s definitely more than what I did before,” Weatherford said. “But this is what it’s going to be like… It’s not like compet is worse than how it actually would be.”

“It’s probably a little more time, but not as much as it sounds like,” Stratford said.

A potential and natural byproduct of the transition is a rougher product that gets smoother as the six weeks proceed and pass. With students handling new responsibilities, there will be a tendency for more mistakes. This past week’s issues did seem to have a little less quality than usual, but this is to be expected.

All told, compet is a useful way to break in new editors and bring them into the fold effectively. It also allows the seniors and outgoing members of the old editorial board to break free of their often-consuming obligations and just sit back and watch. When the 128th Editorial Board is elected on March 6, The Sun will promptly announce the winners, and I hope to have some additional coverage of the process along the way.

Rob Tricchinelli is a second-year student in the Law School and also holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. He can be reached at public-editor@cornellsun.com. The public editor column appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Rob Tricchinelli