Letter from the Editor: The Status of The Dickinsonian

Drew Kaplan ’20, Editor-in-Chief

To my knowledge, The Dickinsonian has never missed a print date. We have had late nights in the office, and at times some of us have made a joke about it, but never in my time has The Dickinsonian failed to get the newspaper printed every Thursday. Given what I have learned from my communications with the college, next week may be the first time. This is not a decision over which The Dickinsonian has control.

Earlier this week, I petitioned to be allowed on campus to assemble the newspaper. I made it clear in the petition that I would be the only one from the paper to return. Everyone else, writers and editors, would work remotely. It is only because of the specialized software necessary to get the newspaper from a collection of email files and Microsoft Word documents to actual newsprint that I would need access to our office. I found the response from the college quite troubling; because there won’t be anyone on campus to read the newspaper, there is no need for it.

I found this rationale troubling for two reasons. The first is that, although, yes, physically the paper won’t be read by many people, a print record preserves information far more than a digital. I’m sure many of us are familiar with the experience of attempting to find some old website we loved years ago, only to find it has been taken down, or otherwise substantially altered. The Dickinsonian has done the same. Our current website infrastructure only dates to 2013. Before that, we used a different hosting service, and articles on the old website were never migrated. What this means is that, if for any reason someone wants to look at pre-2013 articles, that person would be required to find a physical newspaper. The only other option is to reference the college archives digital edition, which is comprised of scanned copies of the physical newspaper. Without the print edition, anything we publish for the foreseeable future will consist strictly of bits and bytes easily lost when servers are changed, fail, or, as we have heard hints towards this year, actively removed by individuals who do not approve of our journalism. The ease with which our work can be undone, either accidentally or intentionally, leads into my other concern.

As I referenced above, The Dickinsonian has, to my knowledge, never missed a print date. This suggests to me a strong dedication amongst both our editors, writers, and readers that there is indeed the sentiment that our newspaper contributes a great deal to our college. The purpose of The Dickinsonian is to keep the Dickinson College community informed. For 148 years we have met our burden. For 148, for better or for worse, we have printed the all the news of Dickinson College, and given voice to students, faculty, and alumni. For the first time in 148 years, we will now be doing so without a print paper, and without access to the college or our office.

I do understand where the college is coming from on this topic. It is not as though coronavirus is something which can easily be shrugged off, and I have watched as other colleges have evacuated their campuses and transitioned to online learning.

As of now, our future is uncertain, but based on what I can gather, it appears that there might not be another physical edition of the newspaper during my time. Given this likely occurrence, I do feel some concern for the paper. Although the website is accessible without the physical campus, I cannot shake the feeling that having a physical paper is better, just as I cannot shake the concern I have over the lack of certainty going into what was to be my final semester. For now, our staff is not permitted on campus. However, as we receive information, we will continue to bring the news forward, even if it is strictly over the internet. Despite these challenges, I have full faith that The Dickinsonian will continue to keep the Dickinson College community informed.