An open letter from the editor

by Beacon Staff • March 31, 2011

Dear Emerson College Students, Faculty, Staff, and Administrators, 

Today at 2 p.m. the Student Government Association plans to vote on whether it should propose a constitutional amendment that will decrease The Berkeley Beacon’s budget by 12.5 percent. Should the SGA suggest the constitutional change, it will appear on this Tuesday’s ballot, to be voted on by the student body.

The amendment would move to alter Article IV, Section 4D of the SGA constitution by decreasing the Beacon’s allocated percentage of the SGA’s annual “student activities fee” from eight to seven percent.

Certainly, the Beacon will still be able to operate in the most fundamental sense despite the $4,800 budget cut, but the precedent set by this sort of action is disturbing in that it incites fear in our newsroom.

The framers of the SGA constitution wrote Article IV, Section 4D to protect the Beacon from this very moment — the moment where we as a newspaper wonder if what we report about the student government may disturb or inhibit our very existence as a campus organization. It is in this moment that our credibility as an equitable and fair-minded news source is put at risk.

In the three and a half years that I have worked for the Beacon, I have seen the paper keenly cover the SGA. Beacon reporters ask difficult questions of student representatives and strive to inform the greater student body of the way that our elected officials perform their duties — finding out how much money they allocate to whom and why, investigating sudden resignations, and carefully examining the qualifications of candidates during the election season.

Therefore, as the only student organization that regularly covers both the student government and the college’s administration, it is imperative that our reporters be able to provide this community with our best attempt at the objective truth — free from anxiety that doing so would mean losing funding.

Today, I write not only as the editor-in-chief of this newspaper, but also as an alarmed student. I hope this community will recognize the value of a newspaper on a college campus and stand with me in doing all they can to protect the Beacon from this short-sighted amendment. Student government association leaders and college newspaper reporters come and go, but the choice to amend the governing document of our student body will surely affect generations of Emersonians. I hope our college will see this amendment for what it is: not a “fiscally responsible” improvement, but a devaluation of the press and of free speech.

Today I will stand before the SGA and ask them to carefully consider this choice — to think about whether this is the precedent they wish to set — a precedent wherein the operating budget of the press, and perhaps just as importantly, a precious learning experience, is subject to the sensitivities of a particular SGA administration — rather than the best interest of the student body.

The Beacon isn’t perfect. Some weeks there are misspellings, grammatical mistakes, and worst of all — on occasion — factual errors. We are students. We are learning. But as I look around the newsroom at 1:15 a.m. each Thursday morning as the 21 editors of The Berkeley Beacon ferociously type away, I am certain of the paper’s invaluable place on this campus.

For 64 years the Beacon has functioned as both a resource to, and an advocate for the students of Emerson College, and it would be a tragedy indeed should it be relegated to anything less. This year alone we expanded our staff, redesigned our print edition, and constructed a brand new website. We attended nearly every, and covered all SGA meetings, reported on Emerson’s growing community in Los Angeles, and directed the administration’s attention to student concerns such as diversity, curriculum, and even safety. Now is not the time to restrict The Berkeley Beacon; now is the time, more than ever, to nourish it.

If you’re reading this letter before 2:00 p.m., I urge you to contact your SGA representatives and ask them to support the Beacon and oppose this harmful measure. And if the measure passes to a campus-wide vote on Tuesday, I ask you to vote against it. This is your opportunity to protect free speech on our campus.

Taylor S. Gearhart