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The Messy State of Journalism at Tufts

Opinion | February 26, 2010

At the beginning of the Spring 2010 semester, an unknown party broke into a computing lab and stole four computers and a large screen. Computer thefts occur at Tufts with a shocking regularity, but this one was unique. The computers were stolen from the so-called MAB Lab, the room where nearly every Tufts student publication meets to produce every issue. The room, covered in dust and dirt, filled with trash and surrounded by boxes of months-old undistributed issues from a variety of publications, now holds only four computers…four computers to be shared among the 11 publications that use the room.

The theft, though itself notable for the fact that someone was able to take thousands of dollars worth of Tufts property with such ease, more importantly sheds light on a growing problem in the media community at Tufts, rapidly depleting resources. This year, the TCU Senate, the student-run body that controls the funding of all student groups, hopes to drastically reduce the budgets of all campus media organizations, accelerating a trend that has already dramatically affected every Senate-funded publication, forcing many campus editors to cut issues and, in some cases, wonder whether they can publish any issues at all.

Yet the lack of funds is not the root cause of what ails the Tufts journalism community; it is merely a symptom of a problem fueled by the TCU Senate, the ludicrously high number of publications at Tufts. The Tufts admissions office often highlights the number of student groups at Tufts, gleefully promoting how the TCU Senate will recognize and fund almost any idea one has for a student group. While this position is admirable, it is often destructive, especially when applied to funding new publications.

It seems that every year a new publication pops up on the shelves in Tisch and Dewick, and, while these new publications can make a positive contribution to the media community, it seems that far too often the TCU Senate funds publications almost on a whim. Many new publications are entirely dedicated to small and specific interests, while others are too similar to preexisting publications. Though many of these publications don’t make it through more than a single fiscal year, every new magazine, journal, or newspaper puts a significant strain on the limited resources of the Tufts media community.

Tufts publications don’t just compete for financial resources; the competition for talent is just as lucrative and the pool just as scarce. Every publication requires a large staff of dedicated and talented writers, editors, artists, and designers; at Tufts, a school with a relatively small undergraduate population, the competition for contributors is fierce. The existing publications already regularly poach staff from each other, and, with each new publication, the competition becomes even more pronounced. Spreading talent so thin does not only pose problems for existing staff members at publications but also for potential new ones. Artists and journalists thrive when surrounded by a large number of talented peers, and the experience from this immersion is instrumental in improving their own abilities.

The high number of publications has already spread the pool of talent and financial resources dangerously thin, and the situation appears likely to further degrade during the next fiscal year. However, the future need not be bleak, and there is hope for the journalism community at Tufts. Reducing the number of publications by consolidating existing ones would solve many of the aforementioned problems. By combining staff and financial resources, the quality of the journalism community at Tufts would dramatically improve. Publications could come out more frequently and have higher -quality articles and art thanks to easier access to talent. Students not involved in campus media would also benefit from a better understanding of the available options and the inevitable increase in quality of the content.

At a recent meeting of editors of many campus publications, one editor remarked to another that the publication he works for covers many of the same topics as her publication. His statement was indicative of many of the problems in the Tufts community, and her response, viewing his statement as an attack on the legitimacy of the publication she worked for, was indicative of the hurdles enacting such changes will face. The ultimate goal of every writer, editor, and artist is to produce high-quality work that is seen by a large number of readers. If this goal is not best met by the current state of the journalism community, then it is imperative that campus editors and TCU senators work together to develop a thriving, long-lasting, and high-quality arena for students to publish their work and consume that of their peers. Tufts is a world-class university with thousands of incredibly bright and talented students; it’s about time that the journalism community reflects that reality.